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Forensic oceanography: how does winter leave a fingerprint in the ocean? (ZHAIUENV20ARIES)

Project Description


The Southern Ocean is a critical component of the global climate system, accounting for about 75% of ocean heat uptake and 40% of ocean anthropogenic carbon uptake. Winter Water, the remnant of the previous winter’s mixed layer, represents a snapshot of previous winter’s interaction between ocean, ice and atmosphere. Despite its importance, processes responsible for Winter Water formation are not thought to be well represented in current Earth System Models. The aim of this project is to assess Winter Water and its variability, in both newly-available Southern Ocean observational data sets and the UK’s climate models, determine the underlying physical mechanisms, and test Winter Water layer depth as a metric to assess Earth System Model performance.


You will join a productive research team of physical oceanographers and climate modellers at UEA and the Met Office in Exeter (CASE partner). You will analyse Winter Water temperature, salinity and depth in observations from tagged seals, research ships and Argo floats. You will assess the performance of the UK’s climate models at different resolutions and with different mixing parameterizations in simulating Winter Water and its variability. You will use simplified models to investigate the key physical processes responsible for Winter Water formation, e.g. air-sea interaction, sea ice formation/melting and eddy subduction. You will test the hypothesis that Winter Water depth is a more robust indicator than mixed layer depth of Earth System Model performance.


This project will provide you with a thorough training in data analysis, numerical modelling, ocean dynamics and air-sea interactions. Researchers at UEA regularly lead and take part in field campaigns and we anticipate that you will participate in a Southern Ocean research cruise to gain oceanographic observational expertise. There will also be opportunities for you to attend summer schools.


We seek an enthusiastic candidate with strong scientific interests and self-motivation.

More information on the supervisor for this project:
Type of programme: PhD
Start date: October 2020
Mode of study: Full-time or part-time
Studentship length: 3.5 years
Partner: Met Office
Eligibility requirements: First degree in Physics, Maths, Oceanography, Meteorology, or Climate Science with good numerical skills

Funding Notes

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, and will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the PhD.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 18/19 February 2020.

Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship. UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award.

Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses in the subject area.

For further information, please visit View Website


Heuzé, C., K.J. Heywood, D.P. Stevens, and J.K. Ridley (2013) Southern Ocean bottom water characteristics in CMIP5 models, Geophysical Research Letters, 40, 1409-1414.

Mallett, H.K.W., L. Boehme, M. Fedak, K.J. Heywood, D.P. Stevens, and F. Roquet (2018) Variation in the distribution and properties of Circumpolar Deep Water in the eastern Amundsen Sea, on seasonal timescales, using seal-borne tags, Geophysical Research Letters, 45, 4982-4990.

Munday, D.R., and X. Zhai (2017) The impact of atmospheric storminess on the sensitivity of Southern Ocean circulation to wind stress changes, Ocean Modelling, 115, 14-26.

Lin, X. X. Zhai, Z. Wang, and D.R. Munday (2018) Mean, variability and trend of Southern Ocean wind stress: Role of wind fluctuations, Journal of Climate, 31, 3557-3573.

Rintoul, S.R. (2018) The global influence of localized dynamics in the Southern Ocean, Nature, 558, 209-218.

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