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Climate history of the Indian Monsoon 1750-1870

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  • Full or part time
    Dr J Jones
    Prof GR Bigg
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

The Indian Monsoon directly affects the livelihoods over 1 billion people. Accurate forecasting is vital, particularly regarding likely changes under increased greenhouse gas concentrations, yet this is hampered by the relatively short instrumental record. Social relationships with the monsoon are also poorly understood; structural vulnerabilities to monsoon variability can develop over very long periods and the cultural memory of past extreme climate events can affect vulnerability in the present. All of these issues require recourse to long records of climate within archives.

The objectives of this project are therefore to: (a) investigate long-term fluctuations in the strength and duration of the Indian Monsoon as manifest in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu; (b) analyse the dynamics of historical societal adaptation to climatic extremes in India, using material contained within the British Library archives.

We have chosen the abovementioned states as they are a critical region where the Indian Meteorological Department defines the start of the monsoon season, and where abundant data sources are contained within the British Library. The study will focus on 1750-1870 as this is the period of greatest data availability within the archives, and allows crossover with instrumental rainfall records from the Madras Observatory.

In this PhD, Meteorological observations recorded in logbooks of the East India Company (EIC), and documentary climate reconstruction from weather observations within the India Office Records and Newspaper Collection, will be used to reconstruct past monsoon variability. Analysis of accounts of societal responses to climate events in the latter records will be used to investigate societal adaptation to climate extremes. The suitability of these sources for historical climatology has been demonstrated in previous works by the supervisors1,2. Targeted logbook digitisation will be undertaken for regions/periods where additional observations are most valuable to the reconstruction.

This is an interdisciplinary project, involving both climate and social science. This PhD will therefore suit applicants with experience of, or the capability to develop skills in, interdisciplinary work, for example with a background in Environmental Science, Geography, Modern History or Quantitative Social Sciences.

Dr Julie Jones Department of Geography, University of Sheffield
Prof. Grant Bigg Department of Geography, University of Sheffield
Prof. David Nash School of Environment and Technology, University of Brighton
Dr George Adamson Department of Geography, King’s College London

Shortlisting will take place as soon as possible after the closing date and successful applicants will be notified promptly. Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview to take place at the University of Sheffield on Friday 11th March 2016.

Funding Notes

This project is funded through the University of Sheffield Research Resource Fellowship, which will cover the cost of the UK/EU tuition fees and provide an annual, tax-free maintenance stipend at the standard RCUK research rate (for 2015-16 this was £14,057) for three years. Overseas students will need to fund the difference between the UK/EU and Overseas fees.

Students will receive a RTSG of £1,000 per year for expenses related to their research, such as travel, conferences, books, consumables and equipment.


1. Hannaford, M.J., J.M. Jones, G.R. Bigg, 2015. Early-nineteenth century southern African precipitation reconstructions from ships’ logbooks. The Holocene, 25, 379-390.

2. Adamson, G.C.D., D.J. Nash, 2014: Documentary reconstruction of monsoon rainfall variability over western India, 1781-1860. Climate Dynamics, 42, 749-769.

3. Hannaford, M., G.R. Bigg, J.M. Jones, I. Phimister, M. Staub, 2014. Climate variability and societal dynamics in the histiography of pre-colonial southern Africa: perspectives from historical climatology. Environment and History, 20, 411-445.

4. Adamson, G.C.D., 2014: Institutional and community adaptation from the archives: A study of drought in western India, 1790-1860. Geoforum, 55, 110-119.

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