Cat Scott

  • University Academic Fellow + NERC Independent Research Fellow - University of Leeds

Research interests

The overall aim of my research is to understand the extent to which land-use change can help mitigate climate change and meet the targets set in the Paris Agreement on Climate.

My research explores interactions between the biosphere and the atmosphere. I am particularly interested in the role of trees and forests in altering atmospheric composition.

During my PhD I quantified the radiative impacts of biogenic secondary organic aerosols and explored the way that deforestation affects the climate by altering the concentrations of short-lived climate forcers (aerosols and non-CO2 greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere. As part of my first postdoctoral research project we quantified the strength of natural aerosol-climate feedbacks due to fires and the production of biogenic secondary organic aerosol, finding that they were comparable in strength to other biogeochemical feedbacks.

The aim of my NERC Independent Research Fellowship is to exploit the next generation of climate models to assess the potential for land-use change policy (e.g. reduced deforestation and increased afforestation) to help society meet climate targets.

By 2050 in future hypothetical scenarios that succeed in limiting warming to the levels specified in the Paris Agreement, society is no longer a net emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs), but we are drawing more GHGs out of the air than we're putting in. The longer it takes global GHG emissions to peak the greater the extent of GHG removal, or negative emissions, we will require. There are a couple of ways that net negative emissions could be achieved. Currently, the most technologically feasible is through eliminating deforestation and engaging in large-scale afforestation and reforestation. 

My previous research has demonstrated that forests and other vegetation can have a cooling impact on the climate because of interactions between plants and the composition of the atmosphere. Plants emit a wide range of gases into the air, the kind that give pine forests their distinctive smell. These gases take part in complex chemical reactions and can go on to form particles that act as seeds for cloud droplet formation. This process is important because the more droplets there are in a cloud, the brighter and more reflective of the Sun's energy it is, helping to cool the climate.

My previous work also indicates that the cooling effects due to these natural particles could become stronger as global temperatures rise; this may act to slightly dampen the warming caused by higher GHG concentrations.