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Modeling climate futures, impacts, response and adaptation options for Arctic communities

   School of Earth & Environment

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  Prof J Ford, Prof Jason Lowe  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The Arctic is undergoing transformative climate change, with profound implications for transportation systems. The lengthening of the shipping season in the Arctic Ocean is well-documented herein, with warming temperatures also compromising the operating period and safety of winter roads. Less studied are the more informal transportation networks involving use of unmaintained trails on frozen lakes, rivers, ocean, and the frozen ground, which are critically important for travel between communities, to cultural sites, and for practicing traditional hunting and fishing activities which have particular importance for Indigenous communities. In research conducted as part of the Indigenous Health Adaptation to Climate Change (IHACC) project (, we have documented concerns among Inuit communities in Arctic Canada that changing trail access due to climate change is affecting a variety of health outcomes including compromising food security, impacting wellbeing, and reducing physical safety. In a paper published in Nature Climate Change (Ford et al., 2019: Changing access to ice, land and water in Arctic communities | Nature Climate Change) we developed trail access models which identify quantitative risk thresholds of ice and weather conditions that affect the ability and safety of using trails, based upon Indigenous knowledge and science. The proposed PhD project will take this work to the next level, examining how projected future changes in sea ice and weather conditions might affect trail conditions, working closely with Inuit communities. The PhD has 3 primary objectives:

1. Draw on the latest climate model information to produce suitable climate scenarios for the region, accounting for uncertainty in response and taking account of potentially high impact low likelihood outcomes.

2. Using already developed trail access models, use the downscaled climate model data to model how climatic and ice-related thresholds and associated trail access might be affected at different levels of warming, over different timescales, and by different generations and classes of climate model (e.g. CMIP5 vs CMIP6).

3. Working with a number of Inuit communities, use participatory scenario planning approaches to examine what projected changes might mean for community livelihoods, culture, and well-being, and identify opportunities for adaptation. Particular attention will be paid to the upper and lower parts of the model uncertainty distributions: for example, what is the minimum change we are now committed to and what this might mean locally; what are the worst case scenarios that may be encountered.

The PhD project will be on the cutting edge of developing innovative interdisciplinary approaches to connect science and Indigenous knowledge, and will involve working in the region witnessing the most climate change globally. Reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of the project, the student will be supervised by a social scientist who works with Indigenous knowledge systems in the Arctic (Ford, U of Leeds), a natural scientist (Lowe, Met Office), and an epidemiologist based in Canada who has expertise in participatory epidemiology (Harper, U Alberta).

The student will be expected to spend considerable time in Inuit communities in northern Canada, and be comfortable working in challenging cross-cultural contexts and climates. They will have strong modeling and/or statistical analysis training and be interested in engaging in a highly interdisciplinary and participatory project.

Eligibility and How to Apply

For more details about this project and how to apply please go to 

The NERC Panorama DTP are hosting ‘Demystifying the PhD application process’ webinars on the 9th and 12th December – sign up now!

The minimum English language entry requirement for research postgraduate research study is an IELTS of 6.0 overall with at least 5.5 in each component (reading, writing, listening and speaking) or equivalent. The test must be dated within two years of the start date of the course in order to be valid. Some schools and faculties have a higher requirement.

Equal Opportunities:

Within the NERC Panorama DTP, we are dedicated to diversifying our community. As part of our ongoing work to improve Equality, Diversity and Inclusion within our PhD funding programme, we particularly encourage applications from the following identified underrepresented groups: UK Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, those from a disadvantaged socio-economic background, and disabled people. To support candidates from these groups, we are ringfencing interviews, providing 1-2-1 support from our EDI Officer (contact Dr. Katya Moncrieff - [Email Address Removed]) and hosting a bespoke webinar to demystify the application process. Candidates will always be selected based on merit and ability within an inclusive and fair recruitment process.

Funding Notes

Fully NERC funded studentship award covering the full cost of University fees plus Maintenance of £17,668 (2022/23 rate) per year for 3.5 years, and a generous research training and support grant (RTSG). Applications are open to both home and international applicants.

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