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Improved climate model simulation of snow cover extent in boreal forest (Advert Reference: EE/DRFGEOP7/62055)

Department of Geography & Environmental Sciences

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Dr N Rutter No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Current climate models fail to adequately represent the recently observed rapid poleward retreat of late spring Northern Hemisphere (NH) snow cover extent (SCE), -21.5% per decade (1979-2012), much of which is spatially coincident with boreal forest. Inconsistencies in model representations of boreal snow-vegetation-atmosphere processes, with associated feedbacks, are the likely source of inadequate SCE simulation. A benchmark assessment of snow-forest process models (SnowMIP2), found large inconsistencies in simulated snow water equivalent and snow melt-out were caused by an insufficient parameterisation of albedo and surface temperature currently included in models rather than an absence or structural incompatibility of the processes themselves. Consequently, an improved understanding of snow-vegetation-atmosphere processes and their representation in climate models is required in order to increase agreement between simulated and observed SCE.

This PhD studentship will evaluate current parameterisations of mass and energy fluxes in snow-forest models, which will guide the development and implementation of new, dynamic (changing with plant functional type (PFT) and density) parameterisations in the land surface model CLM5 of the NCAR Community Earth System Model (CESM1). Evaluation of CLM5 and CESM1 simulations before and after inclusion of dynamic parameterisations will be undertaken to assess: a) differences between trends in simulated and observed NH SCE, and b) strength of radiation feedbacks in different NH PFT.

This is an exciting opportunity for students interested in climate modelling. It is essential that applicants have a strong scientific background in either geophysics, atmospheric sciences, physical geography or oceanography. It is desirable that applicants have strong numerical skills, including computer programming and data manipulation, although full training will be provided throughout the studentship to develop skills relevant for climate modelling. Depending on the interests of the candidate, opportunities to participate in fieldwork will be made possible to enhance the process-based understanding of energy and snow fluxes in boreal forests.

Applicants should hold a first or upper second class honours degree (in a relevant subject) from a British higher education institution, or equivalent. Students who are not UK/EU residents are eligible to apply, provided they hold the relevant academic qualifications, together with an IELTS score of at least 6.5.

How to Apply
To apply, contact PGR Admissions to request the appropriate application form, quoting the advert reference above, via email to [Email Address Removed] or by using the application link on this page.

Proposed Start Date: 1 February 2016

Funding Notes

This is a collaborative project with University of Waterloo, Canada. The studentship includes a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (in 2015/16 this is £14,057 pa); tuition fees and research and training support budget.


Rutter, N., and 50 others. 2009. Evaluation of forest snow processes models (SnowMIP2). J. Geophys. Res., doi:10.1029/2008JD011063.

Essery R.L.H., N. Rutter, J. Pomeroy, R. Baxter, M. Stähli, D. Gustafsson, A. Barr, P. Bartlett and K. Elder 2009. SnowMIP2: An evaluation of forest snow process simulations. BAMS., doi: 10.1175/2009BAMS2629.1.

Reid, T.D., R.L.H. Essery, N. Rutter, M. King. 2013. Data-driven modelling of shortwave radiation transfer to snow through boreal birch and conifer canopies. Hydrological Processes. doi: 10.1002/hyp.9849.

Fletcher, C.G, H. Zhao, P. J. Kushner and R. Fernandes. 2012. Using models and satellite observations to evaluate the strength of snow albedo feedback, J. Geophys Res., 117, D11117, doi:10.1029/2012JD017724.

Fletcher, C. G., P. J. Kushner, A. Hall and X. Qu. 2009. Circulation responses to snow albedo feedback in climate change, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L09702, doi:10.1029/2009GL038011.

Fletcher, C. G., S. C. Hardiman, P. J. Kushner and J. Cohen. 2009. The dynamical response to snow cover perturbations in a large ensemble of atmospheric GCM integrations, J. Climate, 22, 1208–1222.

Derksen, C. and R. Brown. 2012. Spring snow cover extent reductions in the 2008-2012 period exceeding climate model projections. Geophys. Res. Lett., doi:10.1029/2012GL053387.

L. R. Mudryk, P. J. Kushner, C. Derksen. 2014. Interpreting observed northern hemisphere snow trends with large ensembles of climate simulations, Climate Dynamics,, 43, 1-2, 345.

R D Brown, C Derksen. 2013. Is Eurasian October snow cover extent increasing?, Environmental Research Letters, 8, 2, 024006.

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