Air quality and greenhouse gases: Perceptions and Measurements in rural dwellings and schools


It is generally understood that the air in towns and cities is more polluted than air in the countryside, yet the rural agricultural landscape has many sources of air pollution both similar to, and different from, the air in urban areas, including intensive agriculture, waste management and mining. Room ventilation – both in dwellings as well as in communal areas like classrooms – has become an area of much research focus during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet detailed studies in rural communities in the UK are rare.

The aim of this PhD is to determine whether the use of measurements, in conjunction with on-line tools, can enable individuals and/or groups to advocate for, and improve, their local air quality.

This PhD project will use new low-cost sensor systems to look at carbon dioxide, particulate matter and ammonia levels in rural Scotland. Case studies in a rural community in proximity of pollution emission sources will be identified, for example at a school, community building or nursing home. Perceptions and understanding of air pollution will be assessed and the use of the sensor systems for citizens to explore mitigation options will be


Data science and Geography: The student will use information available online with tools including, to identify which communities and schools are near intense rural air pollution sources.

Local Atmospheric chemistry: The types of air pollution will be distinguished using UK air pollution maps and models. The research approach to understand awareness of rural pollution will be developed with the supervisors and a research plan developed to work with 1-2 schools or community centres and private individuals to explore level of knowledge.

Field instrument deployment and data analysis: With the QuantAQ CASE partner, training with the ModulAir systems will be undertaken and deployment of an indoor-outdoor pair of units will be undertaken at case study buildings. In conjunction with UKCEH modelling tools and QuantAQ, the air pollution level and composition will be assessed.

Science communication and knowledge transfer: Using methods developed by University of Stirling, interventions and behaviour change of the building occupants and users will be developed and communication tools and methods developed by QuantAQ tested and improved.

The student will be supported by an interdisciplinary team including Dr Christine Braban (atmospheric chemist, UKCEH), Dr Heather Price (environmental geographer, University of Stirling), Dr. Ulrike Dragosits (spatial modeller, UKCEH) and Eben Cross (atmospheric chemist; CTO & Co-founder of QuantAQ) (CASE partner).

Project Timeline

Year 1

Literature review, sensor system training, atmospheric chemistry training, NERC atmospheric science school, measurement and case study plan, ethics review, other training as necessary.

Year 2

Case study sensor system deployments; research paper on geography of communal buildings and dwellings in proximity to rural pollution sources; development of communication materials and intervention options, training as necessary, attendance at a UK conference.

Year 3

Application of intervention options and benefit analysis; research paper on case study measurements; research paper on communication tools and interventions to improve indoor air quality in rural communities, training as necessary, attendance at an international conference (e.g. AGU).

Year 3.5

Thesis write up, paper edits and defence

& Skills

oth the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the University of Stirling have high quality training programmes for postgraduate students, with the student being required to attend IAPETUS training and events throughout the PhD. The student will trained specifically on atmospheric chemistry; statistics and data science; social science methods; science communication and facilitation. This training will be supplemented by the CASE partner (QuantAQ), who will offer training on sensor systems.

More widely, the student will receive training on:
• Multi-disciplinarity: This research is at the interface between environmental science and social science. The student will receive training in working within interdisciplinary teams, and effectively communicating between disciplines.
• Fieldwork: The student will receive training in instrumentation and field deployment operations, as well as approaches to participatory research.
• Data management: The student will receive training in analysing large environmental datasets.
• Translating research into practice: The student will receive training to communicate their research to multiple audiences (e.g. policy makers, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), media and the wider public) and in publishing their work in scientific literature

References & further reading
Stamp, Samuel, Esfand Burman, Clive Shrubsole, Lia Chatzidiakou, Dejan Mumovic, and Mike Davies. “Long-term, continuous air quality monitoring in a cross-sectional study of three UK non-domestic buildings.” Building and Environment 180 (2020): 107071

Further Information

Dr Christine Braban (

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