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Benefit of high resolution models for climate predictions. PhD in Mathematics (NERC GW4+ DTP)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, January 06, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Lead Supervisor
Prof Adam Scaife, Department of Mathematics, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors
Prof James Screen, Department of Mathematics, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter

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

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the GW4 Alliance of research-intensive universities: the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five unique and prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in the Earth, Environmental and Life sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in scientific research, business, technology and policy-making. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

- A stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,009 p.a. for 2019/20) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
- Payment of university tuition fees;
- A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
- A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
- Travel and accommodation is covered for all compulsory DTP cohort events
- No course fees for courses run by the DTP

We are currently advertising projects for a total of 10 studentships at the University of Exeter.

Project Background

Atmospheric climate models have increased in resolution over several decades since their inception and now typically run at 50-100km resolution globally. However, the representation of observed climate has not yet fully converged and errors remain. Several fluid dynamical mechanisms have been proposed for what missing effects remain at current model resolutions and this is an active research area as computing power grows and permits yet higher resolution. One such process is ‘eddy feedback’, whereby small scale eddies and waves feedback positively on large-scale features in the atmospheric circulation. Such a feedback is thought to be important in maintaining the Atlantic jet stream, for example. This process occurs through eddy fluxes of momentum and vorticity in the atmosphere, but recent studies suggest it is too weak in current general circulation models when run at climate resolution. This project will quantify these deficits using a range of climate model resolutions and investigate its implications for long-range forecasting and climate change.

Project Aims and Methods

This project will test for a greater climate response to imposed conditions in the sea surface temperature and sea ice cover when climate model resolution is increased. The project will investigate eddy feedback in regional climate simulations using our latest high-resolution global models (~12km resolution). It will first make use of existing simulations, but there is also scope for the student to perform new simulations to further test ideas in collaboration with CASE partner scientists at the Met Office. Measures for determining the strength of eddy feedback will be calculated and examined, providing an opportunity to gain expertise in this important and poorly understood area of climate dynamics. It is anticipated that the project will focus particularly on the importance of model resolution for simulating the effects of sea surface temperature and sea ice anomalies on the Atlantic jet stream. The potential implications of this work are large because seasonal, decadal and perhaps even longer climate predictions could all be affected by a lack of eddy feedback in current climate models. With support from the supervisors, the candidate will have the opportunity to shape the project design to focus on aspects of the problem of most interest to them. One area of potential study could be the atmospheric response to Arctic sea-ice loss. The project could perform very high-resolution simulations with perturbed sea ice and compare these to ‘standard’ resolution experiments being run elsewhere as part of the international Polar Amplification Model Intercomparison Project.

Funding Notes

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2020 entry. For eligible students, the studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,009 per annum for 2019-20.


References / Background reading list

Scaife et al. (2019), Does increased atmospheric resolution improve seasonal climate predictions? Atm. Sci. Lett., 2019; 20:e922.

Lorenz and Hartman (2003), Eddy–Zonal Flow Feedback in the Northern Hemisphere Winter, J. Climate, 16, 1212–1227.

Scaife and Smith (2018), A signal to noise paradox in climate science, npj Clim. Atm. Sci., 1, 28.

Smith et al., 2018: The Polar Amplification Model Intercomparison Project (PAMIP) contribution to CMIP6: investigating the causes and consequences of polar amplification. Geoscientific Model Development, 12, 1139-1164.

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