In the middle of applying to universities? | SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE In the middle of applying to universities? | SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE

Deciphering the behaviour of the ionosphere with SuperMAG (Advert ref: NUDATA23/MPEE/COXON)

   Faculty of Engineering and Environment

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  Dr John Coxon  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

About the Centre for Doctoral Training

This project is being offered as part of the STFC Centre for Doctoral Training in Data Intensive Science, called NUdata, which is a collaboration between Northumbria and Newcastle Universities, STFC, and a portfolio of over 40 industrial partners, including SMEs, large/multinational companies, Government and not-for profit organisations, and international humanitarian organisations. Please visit for full information.

PhD project description

Extremely large electric currents flow above Earth’s surface during periods of space weather. These electric currents flow in the ionosphere, the part of Earth’s atmosphere which is characterised by charged particles – ions and electrons. These particles move as the result of space weather ultimately driven by the Sun, leading to electric currents, which in turn induce currents in power lines and telephone networks and can severely damage surface infrastructure, at costs estimated over $1 trillion.

These currents in the ionosphere cause magnetic perturbations due to Ampère’s law, which can be measured on Earth’s surface by devices called magnetometers. Magnetometers have been a key input to our understanding of space weather for over a century: advances in the last decade have combined worldwide magnetometer datasets into a single dataset, allowing us to measure currents flowing globally by providing ~300 million data per year.

You will analyse billions of data in this project to answer key questions about electrical currents in the ionosphere. Are the currents the same in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere or do they differ? When the magnetosphere is active, where above Earth are the strongest currents located? How is this affected by the solar wind? You will exploit the SuperMAG dataset to answer these questions. You will use data from spacecraft launched by NASA and ESA in order to contextualise SuperMAG observations, and compare your work with previous studies. You will collaborate with colleagues internationally and present your work at international conferences and in leading journals.

Training Opportunities

You will have regular one-on-one meetings with supervisors and will take part in activities within our larger research group, including presenting work to colleagues and attending group seminars to learn about the rest of the group’s work. You will attend national and international conferences to develop your communication skills, see reports of results from the cutting edge of our field and gain networking opportunities. You will work with collaborators both nationally and internationally. You will develop your skills in programming in Python.

Student Profile

This project is ideal for a student who has studied physics, applied mathematics, or a closely-related science. A background in space plasma physics is not necessary but is desirable. Prior knowledge of a programming language, particularly Python, is highly desirable, but training in all necessary computing skills will be provided.

Recruitment Event

You will join a strong and supportive research team. To help better understand the aims of the CDT and to meet the PhD supervisors, we are hosting a day-long event on campus on Monday 9th January 2023.

At that event, there will be an opportunity to discuss your research ideas, meet potential PhD supervisors, as well as hear from speakers from a variety of backgrounds (academia, industry, government, charity) discussing both STFC and data science as well as their personal paths and backgrounds. Click here for details.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if they are already a PhD holder or if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

Please note: to be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
  • have settled status, or
  • have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
  • have indefinite leave to remain or enter.

If a candidate does not meet the criteria above, they would be classed as an International student. Applicants will need to be in the UK and fully enrolled before stipend payments can commence, and be aware of the following additional costs that may be incurred, as these are not covered by the studentship.

  • Immigration Health Surcharge
  • If you need to apply for a Student Visa to enter the UK, please refer to the information on It is important that you read this information very carefully as it is your responsibility to ensure that you hold the correct funds required for your visa application otherwise your visa may be refused.
  • Check what COVID-19 tests you need to take and the quarantine rules for travel to England
  • Costs associated with English Language requirements which may be required for students not having completed a first degree in English, will not be borne by the university. Please see individual adverts for further details of the English Language requirements for the university you are applying to.

How to Apply

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note:

You must include the relevant advert reference/studentship code (e.g. NUDATA23/…) in your application.

If you are interested in more than one of the Northumbria-hosted NUdata research projects, then you can say this in the cover letter of your application and you can rank up to three projects you are interested in (i.e. first choice, second choice, third choice). You are strongly encouraged to do this, since some projects are more popular than others. You only need to submit one application even if you are interested in multiple projects (we recommend you submit your application to your first choice).

We offer all applicants full guidance on the application process and on details of the CDT. For informal enquiries, email Professor James McLaughlin ([Email Address Removed]). Please contact the Principal Supervisor of the project(s) [Email Address Removed] for project-specific enquiries.

Deadline for applications: 31st January 2023

Start Date: 25th September 2023

Funding Notes

The studentship supports a full stipend, paid for four years at UKRI rates (for 2022/23 full-time study this is £17,668 per year), full tuition fees and a Research Training and Support Grant (for conferences, travel, etc).


Coxon, J. C., Chisham, G., Freeman, M. P., Anderson, B. J., & Fear, R. C. (2022). Distributions of Birkeland current density observed by AMPERE are heavy-tailed or long-tailed. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 127, e2021JA029801.
Coxon, J. C., R. M. Shore, M. P. Freeman, R. C. Fear, S. D. Browett, A. W. Smith, D. K. Whiter, B. J. Anderson (2019), Timescales of Birkeland currents driven by the IMF. Geophysical Research Letters, 46.
Shore, R. M., M. P. Freeman, J. C. Coxon, E. G. Thomas, J. W. Gjerloev, and N. Olsen (2019), Spatial variation in the responses of the surface external and induced magnetic field to the solar wind. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 124.
Coxon, J. C., I. J. Rae, C. Forsyth, C. M. Jackman, R. C. Fear, and B. J. Anderson (2017). Birkeland currents during substorms: Statistical evidence for intensification of Regions 1 and 2 currents after onset and a localized signature of auroral dimming, Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 122, 6455–6468.
Coxon, J. C., S. E. Milan, J. A. Carter, L. B. N. Clausen, B. J. Anderson, and H. Korth (2016). Seasonal and diurnal variations in AMPERE observations of the Birkeland currents compared to modeled results, Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 121.
Search Suggestions
Search suggestions

Based on your current searches we recommend the following search filters.

PhD saved successfully
View saved PhDs