Arctic tundra plant phenology and greenness across space and time
Keeping the overview of a big, multiyear, research project was challenging, but a rewarding experience [...] I definitely learned a lot how about prioritising, time-management and how to handle stress!
What was your research about?
The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the global average with strong consequences for the ecosystems of the North, including the vegetation in the Arctic tundra. The timing of the growing season (phenology), community composition, and plant growth are all undergoing changes. Using ground-based observations, drones and satellite remote sensing I studied how plant phenology and vegetation greenness are changing over space and time, and how observational scales affect our ability to detect these changes.
I found that the timing of spring in coastal tundra communities is best predicted by local snowmelt and temperatures – but not – regional sea-ice conditions and showed that even though satellites and drones agree in their measures of landscape greenness, ecologically important variation is lost when moving from high-resolution drone data to medium resolution satellite imagery.
What made you apply to the E3 DTP?
After my undergraduate degree in ecology at Edinburgh, I wanted to embark on a PhD in the ecological sciences. A staff member drew my attention to the E3 DTP and suggested I should apply. It seemed like a great opportunity and I got stuck - in the most positive sense of the word!
- I spent two summers of field work in the Yukon Territory in Canada. The logistics of the fieldwork were challenging but it was an absolute blast!
- Conferences highlights were two ArcticNet Meetings (Vancouver and Quebec City) in Canada, as well as a British Ecological Science Meeting in Liverpool, all of which I would highly recommend!
- I also ran an activity during the Edinburgh International Science Festival with a bunch of other grad students from the School of GeoSciences called “All about Earth: From Space!”. That was a lot of fun!
Was your PhD what you expected it to be?
Both yes and no! The research and science side of things was as I expected –reading, thinking and hard work. Keeping the overview of a big, multiyear, research project was challenging, but a rewarding experience - I think I underestimated what that meant. I definitely learned a lot how about prioritising, time-management and how to handle stress!
The various training opportunities were probably the things most unique to the DTP that I had a chance to experience.
Looking back, what would you have done differently?
With what I know now, there are too many things to list that I would have done differently. But that would be unfair too, after all a PhD is all about learning!
Which aspects of your PhD did you enjoy the most?
The fieldwork in the Arctic (what a privilege!). And of course, the research community and people at the University of Edinburgh. The communities of grad students at the Schools of GeoSciences and Biology are just amazing.
Which skills did you gain during your PhD?
Field logistics, building drones, being a drone pilot, data analysis, spatial programming, time management, science communication, advanced problem solving, knowledge about tundra ecology, team work in extreme situations… the list is too long!
The communities of grad students at the Schools of GeoSciences and Biology are just amazing.
What would not have been possible without the DTP?
The various training opportunities were probably the things most unique to the DTP that I had a chance to experience. I loved the residential trips and the courses run in collaboration with the science outreach team from ClimateXChange at the Scottish parliament.
How has your PhD helped you to decide on a career pathway?
It definitely gave me a clear idea of the ups and downs of working in the academic environment. I think I have a much more realistic understanding of what it means to work in research and teaching.
There are a lot of cool things out there in the world that I would love to try, but for now I will give the academic career a go. I am currently on a three-months visit to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire (USA), supported by a small grant from the Scottish Alliance of Geoscience, Environment and Society (SAGES). Let’s see where life takes me afterwards!