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Dr Anna Harper

Senior Lecturer, Climate Science


Telephone: 01392 724588

Extension: (Streatham) 4588

My research focuses on interactions between vegetation, climate, and humans. I am interested in better understanding:

- Processes that govern how plants respond to climate extremes and trends in climate change;

- The impacts of climate and human land use on ecosystems;

- Feasibility of land-based mitigation pathways (such as regrowing forests or bioenergy crops).

I primarily use models in my research, supported by observations at sites or from satellites. Lately I have also been combining environmental data and statistics to improve model predictions. I also enjoy supporting student research projects, please get in touch if you are interested in working with me.


Office Hours

Spring/Summer Term 2022: My office hours are Mondays and Thursdays, 11:30-12:30 in Laver 814e. I'm happy to arrange a virtual meeting if you can't come in person.


News August 2021: New paper published in Nature

The Montreal Protocol protects the carbon sink: For an interesting summary of the paper see this piece in the Conversation written by lead author Paul Young: Repairing the ozone layer is also reducing CO2 in the atmosphere

July 2021:

Congratulations to my PhD student Simon Jones for successfully completing his PhD, titled "The role of non-structural carboyhydrates in predictions of ecosystem carbon fluxes"! Simon will do a post-doc with Peter Cox, working to combine hydraulics and NSCs in JULES.

June 2021: 

New 4 year project ESM2025 starts, an EU Horizon2020 project. We aim to provide the next generation of Earth System Models, to aid in development of ambitious and realistic mitigation and adaptation strategies in line with the Paris Agreement. Post-doctoral researcher Emma Littleton will be working on representing bioenergy crops and forest harvest in JULES.

New paper published: Improvement of modeling plant responses to low soil moisture in JULESvn4.9 and evaluation against flux tower measurements, published in GMD. This paper is the result of the large collaborative group, the Soil Moisture Stress JULES Process Evaluation Group, led by myself and Karina Williams, who holds a joint post at the UK Met Office and in the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter. We hope it's the first of many papers from the group suggesting vital improvements in the JULES model.

May 2021:

Launch of the 4.5 year project Net Zero Plus, lead by Ian Bateman in the Business School. This project will inform policy decisions on planting of trees over the next 25 years in the UK, linking up environmental, economic, and social considerations to help the UK deliver on its stated aim of Net Zero emissions by 2050. The team includes the National Trust, Forest Research, and more than 20 project partners. Arthur Argles will work on representing forest growth in JULES to support the project.

July 2020: new paper published

First paper from my PhD student, Simon Jones, is now published in Biogeosciences: The impact of a simple representation of non-structural carbohydrates on the simulated response of tropical forests to drought. This is a crucial step in representing seasonal cycles of plant productivity in forests. Congratulations Simon!


Land-based climate mitigation and negative emissions

Paper in Nature Communications: Land-use emissions play a critical role in land-based mitigation for Paris climate targets.

The Paris Climate Agreement set an ambition of limiting climate change to well below 2°C warming since pre-industrial times (mid-19th century), with efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C. But at current rates of emission, it will take less than a decade to emit the carbon required to get to 1.5°C of warming. 

So what can we do? We can and should cut emissions, but we should also investigate strategies for removing CO2 from the atmosphere and their implications for ecosystems and people. One option is to produce bioenergy from plants (like switchgrass or wood pellets)  at power stations equipped for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), which store CO2 in geologic reservoirs instead of emitting it back into the atmosphere. This is called bioenergy with CCS (or BECCS). Another option is to regrow forests, or to avoid future deforestation. Both of these strategies require large land areas to make a dent in climate change, and they have knock-on effects on food, energy, water, and natural ecosystems. 

My current research investigates the potential for negative emissions of CO2 using BECCS and natural ecosystem-based methods, and the impacts on food, energy, water, and natural ecosystems. By quantifying both the mitigation potential and the impacts, we aim to assess various scenarios for reducing climate change and their consequences. 

My research group uses the land surface model JULES to study biogeochemical cycles, vegetation and carbon cycle dynamics, and will be using the UK Earth System Model to study the effects of climate change on bioenergy production and forests, as well as the impacts on climate of large-scale land use change for bioenergy and carbon sequestration.

This work is currently funded by UKRI project "Feasibility of Afforestation and Biomass energy with carbon capture and storage for Greenhouse Gas Removal (FAB-GGR)" and private funding through the Rockefeller Foundation. In the past, I held an EPSRC Living With Environmental Change fellowship (2016-2019), and was part of the NERC grant "Climate, Land-Use, and Ecosystem Services for 1.5C".

I've been involved in a few other interesting studies relating to the Paris Agreement:

Collins WJ, et al. (2018) Increased importance of methane reduction for a 1.5 degree targetEnvironmental Research Letters*

Comyn-Platt E, et al. (2018) Carbon budgets for 1.5 and 2C targets lowered by natural wetland and permafrost feedbacks, Nature Geosciences

And I've contributed to policy-relevant summaries of mitigation pathways for Paris, led by the EU CRESCENDO project.

File uploads

Climate change: the science and the solutions Conference talk from Modern Church Conference: Climate Emergency: the search for hope beyond denial and despair [virtual conference], 13 July 2021.