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University College London Featured PhD Programmes

Improving Key Carbon Cycle Processes in Climate Models Using Satellite Observations

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, January 10, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

not the, major global societal issue. To understand the effects of these emissions (and mitigate/adapt to the subsequent changes), it is vital that we have a better understanding of the various couplings and feedbacks within the Earth system.
Climate models are beginning to incorporate processes and feedbacks related to biogeochemical cycles, becoming “Earth system” models (ESMs). How such processes interact with each other and the physical climate is highly uncertain but has a huge impact upon climate predictions.

ESMs successfully reproduce current atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations but diverge wildly in predictions because of fundamental differences at the process-level. For methane (CH4), the situation is worse and no CMIP6 (Climate Model Intercomparison Project) model will run with interactive CH4 as the uncertainties are too large. This leads to large uncertainties in climate predictions or prevents important processes from being included in simulations due to their unrealistic feedbacks.

Observations are key to understanding and constraining these processes. The growth in the quantity and capability of satellite observations offers an excellent opportunity to evaluate and constrain many climate-relevant carbon cycle processes. We are entering a period where we will have an unprecedented wealth of satellite missions measuring the carbon cycle (CO2, CH4, CO, SIF, Biomass). These observations must be fully utilised in developing and improving our representation of the carbon cycle in future ESMs.
This studentship would aim to use observations to evaluate and better develop our understanding of key biogeochemical processes and feedbacks in the carbon cycle that are vital to the accurate modelling of the Earth system and hugely significant for predictions of future climate.

New methodologies like “emergent constraints” have already begun to demonstrate the utility of satellite observations for constraining climate processes. These methods use observations of quantities that can be measured to explore relationships within ensembles of climate models and ultimately to constrain and improve understanding of parameters that we currently cannot measure. This studentship will use such approaches, combined with new satellite observations, to improve our process-level understanding and representation of the carbon cycle.

Entry requirements

UK Bachelor Degree with at least 2:1 in a relevant subject or overseas equivalent.


Project Enquiries: Prof. Hartmut Boesch,

Funding Enquiries:

How to apply

Please refer to the How to Apply section at and use the PHYSICS Apply button to submit your PhD application. Upload your CENTA Studentship Form in the proposal section of the application form.

In the funding section of the application please indicate you wish to be considered for NERC CENTA Studentship
Under the proposal section please provide the name of the supervisor and project title/project code you want to apply for.


Available for UK and EU applicants only

Applicants must meet requirements for both academic qualifications and residential eligibility:

Funding Notes

This project is one of a number of fully funded studentships available to the best UK and EU candidates available as part of the NERC DTP CENTA consortium.

For more details of the CENTA consortium please see the CENTA website: View Website.

Applicants must meet requirements for both academic qualifications and residential eligibility: View Website

The studentship includes a 3.5 year tuition fee waiver at UK/EU rates

An annual tax free stipend (For 2019/20 this is currently £15,009)

Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) of £8,000


Chadburn, S., Burke, E., Cox, P., Friedlingstein, P., Hugelius, G. and Westermann, S. (2017). An observation-based constraint on permafrost loss as a function of global warming. Nature Climate Change, 7(5), pp.340-344.

Cox, P., Huntingford, C. and Williamson, M. (2018). Emergent constraint on equilibrium climate sensitivity from global temperature variability. Nature, 553(7688), pp.319-322.

Eyring, V., Bony, S., Meehl, G., Senior, C., Stevens, B., Stouffer, R. and Taylor, K. (2016). Overview of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 6 (CMIP6) experimental design and organization. Geoscientific Model Development, 9(5), pp.1937-1958.

Flato, G. (2011). Earth system models: an overview. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 2(6), pp.783-800.

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