Can Antarctic dust and biology be aerosolised and affect the region’s clouds and climate?

Project Description

Clouds play an important role in the planet’s climate by reflecting sunlight and trapping heat within the atmosphere. However, they are poorly represented in climate models, particularly in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica (Murray et al., 2021). One of the major uncertainties is the amount of ice versus water present in clouds in the region, which can change the way in which sunlight is reflected and affect the lifetime of the cloud. This ice-to-water ratio can be drastically influenced by so-called “ice-nucleating particles” (INPs), aerosol particles that can trigger the freezing of supercooled water droplets in clouds. We recently demonstrated that there are multiple potential sources of INPs originating from Antarctica, including dusts, mosses, lichens, and volcanic ash (van den Heuvel et al., 2024) via lab-based testing of samples collected from across Antarctica. However, a major question remains: can these INPs be lofted into the air and so influence clouds?

In this project you will use state-of-the-art aerosol measurement facilities at the University of Leeds to help determine whether samples from Antarctic can be aerosolised and, if so, in what particle size ranges and what their ice-nucleating ability is. This will be achieved using the Leeds aerosol chamber with online particle sizing instrumentation and an online INP analyser: the PINE chamber ( You will work with scientists from the University of Leeds (Dr. Mark Tarn and Prof. Ben Murray) and British Antarctic Survey (Dr. Floor van den Heuvel) as part of the CloudSense programme (, and will be integrated into a research group composed of experimental scientists and climate modellers, including taking part in group meetings and research discussions.

This project will involve lab-based experiments and analysis of the data, and will provide experience working on new techniques in a research lab setting while providing opportunity to gain experience in the use of Python coding. You will also learn how the outcomes of this work would be used in climate simulations through interactions with our modellers. We expect that this work would contribute to the publication of a research paper.

This project would suit a student with an Environmental, Chemistry or Physics background and with a keen interest in lab-based research.

Further reading:
Murray et al. (2021), Cloud-phase climate feedback and the importance of ice-nucleating particles:
van den Heuvel et al. (2024), Investigating potential sources of ice-nucleating particles around the Antarctic peninsula:

Supervisor & Contact

Mark Tarn,

How to Apply

  1. Complete the online REP application form, one for each project of interest, including a copy of your CV.
  2. Complete the EDI form (only one is needed, you do not need to submit more than one if you apply for multiple projects).  Although this is optional, if places are over-subscribed, preference will be given to under-represented groups.