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Ocean heat waves or frozen seas – Can we make seasonal ocean forecasts? Geography PhD studentship (NERC GW4+ DTP funded)

College of Life and Environmental Sciences

Friday, January 08, 2021 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Project Background:

Seasonal forecasting is at the cutting edge of climate science and is used by many (terrestrial) industries, such as agriculture, the energy sector, and commodity trading. The UK shelf seas support a large diverse ecosystem, and many industries (e.g. fisheries, tourism, offshore operations, and shipping). All of these are affected by weather and climate variability, with impacts above and below the sea surface. This drives an appetite for predictions and projections over a wide range of timescales.

While short-term forecasts and long-term climate projections exist for this region, seasonal forecasts are currently lacking. Recent progress in ocean and atmosphere modelling systems at the Met Office provide the potential for seasonal ocean forecasts to be developed. Seasonal forecasts have proved to be valuable in other regions of the world (e.g. U.S.A., Australia, Payne et al. (2017)). We want to work with you to produce the first seasonal forecasts for the waters around the UK, and begin to exploit the potential of such an exciting system.

Project Aims and Methods:

This project will develop a new seasonal forecasting product for the European Northwest Shelf (NWS). There are various approaches available for designing marine forecasts for this region. These include either use of existing global ocean forecasting systems developed at the Met Office, or “downscaling” these global models to provide more detailed information across the region.

You will help develop the key scientific questions of the PhD with the guidance of the supervisory team, based on their existing expertise and interests. However, initial questions may include:

• Can global models predict seasonality across the NWS; are some properties more predictable than others?
• What benefits can be gained from downscaling methods; does increased detail mean increased predictability?
• What are the mechanisms behind this predictability?

You will be expected to spend at least 3 months, and ideally much more, working on site at Met Office HQ, Exeter, where you will receive hands-on training and experience in running Met Office ocean forecast models. To ensure that your work is at the very cutting-edge, you will have the exciting opportunity to spend extended periods working with and exchanging knowledge with international leaders in this field, including time spent in Dr Mark Payne’s group at the National Institute of Aquatic Resources in Denmark.

As the primary marine science advisors to the UK government, Cefas will play an advisory role through this project. Insight will be provided into applications of the project outcomes, from both a science and policy direction.

Candidate requirements:

The candidate must have achieved, or be expected to achieve, a first class or 2:1 degree in Meteorology, Oceanography, Mathematics, Physics, Environmental Science or related field. A Master’s level qualification with previous experience of conducting independent research is desirable. Knowledge of scientific programming languages (e.g., Python, Matlab, IDL, R) would be advantageous.

CASE Partner:

The student will spend at least 3 months of their time working at Met Office HQ in Exeter with Dr Jonathan Tinker, an expert in the climate of the Northwest European Shelf Seas region, gaining experience with seasonal forecasting.

Collaborative Partner:

Dr Jennifer Graham (CEFAS) has expertise in ocean modelling for a wide variety of applications. Cefas will have an advisory role in the project, providing insight into broader applications or policy relevance of any results from this project.


You will be based within the internationally recognised College of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Exeter. You will be able to access training on data analysis of large datasets (Big Data), climate modelling, scientific writing and presenting, and much more through taught postgraduate courses at the University of Exeter and wider GW4 partnership. The Met Office will provide training in the use and applications of ocean forecast systems.

While at the Met Office, you will receive training in the use of its High-Performance Computing facilities for running ocean models and have access to a wealth of further training opportunities through the Met Office College.
You would be expected to will present your findings at both national and international conferences, such as the AGU Ocean Sciences meeting.

Useful links:

For information relating to the research project please contact the lead Supervisor via

Prospective applicants:
For information about the application process please contact the Admissions team via .

Funding Notes

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2021 entry. For eligible students, the studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,285 per annum for 2020-21.


Tinker, J., et al.. (2018). What are the prospects for seasonal prediction of the marine environment of the NW European shelf?, Ocean Science, 14: 887-909 doi:10.5194/os-14-887-2018.

MacLachlan, C., et al. (2014). Global Seasonal forecast system version 5 (GloSea5): a high-resolution seasonal forecast system, Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 141(689): 1072-1084 doi:10.1002/qj.2396.

Payne et al. (2017). Lessons from the First Generation of Marine Ecological Forecast Products, Frontiers in Marine Science. doi:10.3389/fmars.2017.00289

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