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Dynamics and Forecasting of High Impact Weather Fronts. Mathematics PhD Studentship (NERC GW4+ DTP funded).

College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences

Dr J Catto Friday, January 08, 2021 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Atmospheric fronts are known to bring much of the rainfall that occurs over the midlatitudes, including the United Kingdom, and they can produce very intense rainfall associated with flooding (Catto et al 2012, Catto and Pfahl 2013). For example, the flooding associated with Storm Desmond in December 2015,which, along with the subsequent storm Eva, caused economic losses estimated between £1.3 and £5.8 billion, was from the rain that fell along the storm’s front (Matthews et al 2018). Predicting the location of fronts and their intense rainfall can present a challenge in weather forecasting, resulting in difficulties giving accurate weather warnings. The use of an ensemble of forecast simulations therefore provides vital information on the spread in likely front locations and their associated weather, such as heavy rainfall.

Project Aims and Methods:

The aims of this project will be to understand the lifecycle and dynamical and thermodynamic characteristics of fronts that contribute to extreme precipitation events in observations. Further, the methods developed will be applied to the Unified Model (UM) Climate Model, and the Numerical Weather Prediction model (specifically the Met Office Global and Regional Ensemble Prediction System – MOGREPS) in order to test the fidelity of these features in the models. A full climatological evaluation of the structure and lifecycles of simulated fronts in the UM has not been undertaken before and this project aims to be the first. Errors in frontal structure identified in the climate model may be able to provide insight into the causes of errors in the Met Office’s weather forecasts. We will ask the question, “Are the systems that are simulated poorly in the climate model responsible for causing the largest uncertainty in the ensemble forecasts? Answering that question may directly contribute to improving the representation of fronts in the models, and therefore the Met Office’s weather and climate forecasts, as well as improving their weather warnings.

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 (£17k).

Candidate requirements:

Knowledge of scientific programming languages (e.g., Matlab, Python, IDL, R) would be advantageous.

CASE partner:

Formal links with the Met Office (specific to this project and also on a University-wide scale) ensures access to data and expertise from their seamless modelling capability across prediction time scales. Extended work visits to the Met Office will allow the candidate to learn their computer systems, including the possibility of training on key software tools such as Python. The Met Office supervisor will facilitate the communication of results of the project to the key stakeholders, such as model developers and operational forecasters.


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), weather and 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. The candidate will be expected to take part in relevant national and international conferences and workshops. Further opportunities for networking and training are facilitated through the networks of the supervisors.


NERC GW4+ DTP studentships are open to UK and Irish nationals who, if successful in their applications, will receive a full studentship including payment of university tuition fees at the home fees rate.

A limited number of full studentships are also available to international students which are defined as EU (excluding Irish nationals), EEA, Swiss and all other non-UK nationals.

Studentships for international students will only cover fees at the UK home fees rate. However, university tuition fees for international students are higher than the UK home fees rate therefore the difference will need to be funded from a separate source which the student or project supervisor may have to find. Unfortunately, the NERC GW4+ DTP cannot fund this difference from out studentship funding Further guidance on how this will work will be issued in November.

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

Funding Notes

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2021 entry. For eligible students, the studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,285 per annum for 2020-21.


Catto J L et al 2012, Relating global precipitation to atmospheric fronts, Geophys. Res. Lett., 39,

Catto J L and S Pfahl 2013, The importance of fronts for precipitation extremes, J. Geophys. Res. Atmos., 118, 10791-10801,

T Matthews et al 2018, Super-storm Desmond: a process-based assessment, Environ. Res. Lett. 13 014024,

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