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Measuring, modelling and predicting the hole in the Earth’s magnetic field (part of the SENSE Centre for Doctoral Training)

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  • Full or part time
    Dr P Livermore
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

Project Description

The geomagnetic field is a fundamental component of Earth. Wrapping around our planet like an invisible force-field, it protects life from harmful solar radiation and influences the impacts of space weather on modern technologies, such as satellites and electrical power grids. Yet similar to the ozone hole in the atmosphere, there is a weakspot in this shield, termed the south Atlantic anomaly (SAA). The Earth’s magnetic field is dynamic and changes on yearly to decadal timescales, and unlike the ozone hole the SAA is currently growing. Satellites that fly through this region of weakened field experience electronic upsets. From 1999 satellites have continuously measured the Earth’s geomagnetic field, the most recent of which is ESA satellite mission Swarm, launched in 2013. These and future monitoring, alongside both recent and historical ground-based measurements, will allow a detailed study of the SAA, including modelling of its origin deep within the Earth’s core and its space weather implications.

1. To map the SAA both in terms of magnetic field strength, observations of energetic particles (e.g. those causing the SEUs) and simple models of the positioning of the Earth’s radiation belts which transport these charged particles.
2. To create new dynamical models of the Earth’s liquid core consistent with geomagnetic observations, exploiting the magnetic field gradient measurements made possible by simultaneous measurement using Swarm’s trio of spacecraft. These new models will be focussed on understanding how the SAA arises, and will be used along with machine learning, to assess its future structure.
3. To forecast the structure of the magnetic field and the SAA, and thereby assess its space weather implications such as the geometry of the radiation belts and their impact on spacecraft.

We seek a highly motivated candidate with a strong background in mathematics, physics, computation, geophysics or another highly numerate discipline. Knowledge of geomagnetism is not required, and training will be given in all aspects of the PhD.

For more details, see

Supervisor team:
Phil Livermore, Jon Mound (Leeds)
Kathy Whaler (Edinburgh)

Project partners: British Antarctic Survey, Danish Technical University

This PhD is part of the NERC and UK Space Agency funded Centre for Doctoral Training "SENSE": the Centre for Satellite Data in Environmental Science. SENSE will train 50 PhD students to tackle cross-disciplinary environmental problems by applying the latest data science techniques to satellite data. All our students will receive extensive training on satellite data and AI/Machine Learning, as well as attending a field course on drones, and residential courses hosted by the Satellite Applications Catapult (Harwell), and ESA (Rome). All students will experience extensive training on professional skills, including spending 3 months on an industry placement. See

Funding Notes

This 3 year 9 month long NERC SENSE CDT award will provide tuition fees (£4,500 for 2019/20), tax-free stipend at the UK research council rate (£15,009 for 2019/20), and a research training and support grant to support national and international conference travel.


Pavón-Carrasco, F. J., & De Santis, A. (2016). The South Atlantic Anomaly: The Key for a Possible Geomagnetic Reversal. Frontiers in Earth Science, 4(61), 1738–9.
Casadio, S., & Arino, O. (2011). Monitoring the South Atlantic Anomaly using ATSR instrument series. Advances in Space Research, 48(6), 1056–1066.

How good is research at University of Leeds in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 79.20

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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