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Atmospheric Drivers of UK flood events: Current State and Future Changes

Project Description

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see

Location: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter EX4 4QJ

Supervisory team:
Dr Marie Ekstrom - School of Earth and Ocean Sciences Cardiff University
Dr Malcolm Roberts - Met Office
Dr Segolene Berthou - Met Office
Dr Alison Kay - Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Dr Ali Rudd - Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

Project details:
Flooding can have significant socioeconomic and environmental impacts through loss of life and property, and environmental degradation through riverbank erosion and sedimentation. For example, in December 2015, the UK was hit by 2 successive extratropical storms (named Desmond and Eva), which caused widespread flooding in the north of England, and caused economic losses estimated between 1.3 and 5.8 billion pounds. Flooding is a catchment response to one or several rainfall events, evident by the distinction between pluvial (rainfall event driven) and fluvial (saturated catchments driven) floods. Here we are primarily interested in the former − flooding driven mainly by a weather event such as Desmond. These storms can source their moisture from very far away, sometimes with features called atmospheric rivers, and so can depend on conditions in those remote locations. Heavy rainfall events have increased in intensity in the recent past, with events like Desmond more likely due to human induced climate changes. These heavy rainfall events (or precipitation extremes) are projected to continue to increase in intensity in the future. Vital questions remain as to the shifting footprint of such events and whether new generations of high-resolution climate models can capture the most important features linking the dynamical weather systems and flooding. In this project a goal will be to understand the atmospheric conditions and large-scale set up that brings the necessary moisture to lead to flooding events of different time and space scales, to better link the knowledge and understanding of atmospheric dynamics with the societal and environmental impacts of these events.

Project Aims and Methods:
In this project the candidate will be able to take advantage of the expertise and experience of the academic (University of Exeter and Cardiff University) and non-academic (CEH and Met Office) supervisory team that links understanding of extreme rainfall events and associated dynamics, flooding and impacts research, and climate modelling. The aim will be to answer questions of both scientific and societal importance on the formation and occurrence of extreme rainfall and flooding events, and how the footprint of these events may change in a future climate. The project will involve the analysis of several datasets of atmospheric observations, flooding information, and climate model output, and will exploit new model simulations as part of the World Climate Research Program climate model database, specifically the high-resolution simulations produced by the Met Office. With the guidance of the supervisors, the candidate will be given the opportunity to modify the research focus and weighting of the different aspects of the project to reflect their interests and strengths. This studentship comes with a generous budget for travel and training (£15k), with the potential for additional research visit support for a suitable candidate.

The candidate will be based within the internationally recognised Exeter Climate Systems Research Centre. They will receive training on data analysis of large datasets (Big Data), climate modelling, scientific writing and presenting in accordance with the postgraduate programme at the University of Exeter, GW4 initiatives such as the Water Security Alliance, and through participation in Met Office training. Further opportunities for networking and training are facilitated through networks of the supervisors, such collaborative opportunities with the as the Australian Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes (funding will be provided by the centre for a visit to Australia of a suitable candidate), and scientists and scholars affiliated with the Cardiff University Water Research Institute.

Funding Notes

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2019 entry. For eligible students, the studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £14,777 per annum for 2018-19.


Students from EU countries who do not meet the residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award but no stipend. Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.


Winschall et al (2014), Comparison of Eulerian and Lagrangian moisture source diagnostics – the flood event in eastern Europe in May 2010, Atmos. Chem. Phys. 14, 6605-6619.
Catto, J. L. (2016), Extratropical cyclone classification and its use in climate studies, Reviews of Geophysics, doi: 10.1002/2016RG000519.
Otto F. et al. (2018),Climate change increases the probability of heavy rains in Northern England/Southern Scotland like those of storm Desmond—a real-time event attribution revisited, Environmental Research Letters, 13, 024006.

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