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Far-flung influences on midlatitude climate and weather extremes: The stratospheric pathway. Mathematics PhD Studentship (NERC GW4+ DTP funded)

College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences

Dr W Seviour , Dr J Screen , Dr Stephen Thomson Friday, January 08, 2021 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Teleconnections are processes which link variations in weather and climate between different parts of the globe, often many thousands of kilometres apart. They are important for making reliable predictions of weather and climate at the regional scale, from weeks to decades ahead, particularly in the midlatitudes where billions of people live. Recently there has been much speculation that the stratosphere may play a significant role in these teleconnections, despite its thin air and high altitude.

More specifically, climate variability in both the tropics and the Arctic may influence the stratospheric polar vortex, a region of intense winds at above 10 km in altitude, encircling the winter pole. In extreme cases, this vortex may temporarily break down in dramatic events known as sudden stratospheric warmings, with impacts propagating downwards to the Earth’s surface (see this explainer video:

There is still much to be understood about the mechanisms underlying this potential ‘stratospheric pathway’. Open research questions include, but are not limited to, how tropical and polar influences interact, how these remote influences affect the 3D structure of the stratospheric polar vortex (as illustrated above), how stratospheric signals are communicated down to the surface, and how they impact the risk of extreme weather. This project will use cutting-edge computational and data analysis tools to tackle these important problems.

Project Aims and Methods:

The student will have the opportunity to join a major new collaboration on Arctic teleconnections which also includes scientists at the Universities of Bristol, Oxford, Reading, Bangor, Southampton, and the National Oceanography Centre. This will give them the opportunity to build a wider network of collaborators, and to discuss and present results at regular project meetings. To make progress in this significant research area, the student will use the Isca climate modelling framework, recently developed within our group ( Isca is a relatively simple and uniquely flexible model that can be used for simulating the atmosphere at varying levels of complexity and is therefore ideal for probing fundamental mechanisms. Knowledge gained from these experiments will be applied to the analysis of observed climate records, state-of-the-art ‘large ensemble’ climate projections, as well as seasonal-to-decadal predictions from collaborators at the UK Met Office. With support from the supervisors, the candidate will be encouraged to shape the focus of research to suit their interests.

Candidate Requirements:

This project would suit candidates with a background in Mathematics, Physics, Meteorology, Oceanography, Computer Science, or a related field. Knowledge of scientific programming languages (e.g., Python, Matlab, R) and experience with independent research would be advantageous, but is not essential.

Collaborative Partner:

Co-supervisor Prof Scaife leads the Met Office Long Range Forecast section and will facilitate regular visits and collaboration, enabling the student to gain experience working in a government research environment.


Training will include the use of high-performance computing resources, scientific software development, data analysis and visualisation, as well as scientific writing and presentation. The student will be encouraged to participate in external training courses such (e.g. the Cambridge Fluid Dynamics Summer School), for which there is a generous travel and training budget (£15k).


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.


Kidston et al. 2015:

Scaife et al. 2016:

Screen et al. 2018,

Seviour 2017, GRL

Thomson et al. 2018:

Zhang et al. 2018:

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