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Ocean heat waves or frozen seas: can we make seasonal ocean forecasts? PhD in Mathematics (NERC GW4+ DTP)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, January 06, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Lead Supervisor
Dr Jennifer Catto, Department of Mathematics, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors
Dr Jonathan Tinker, Met Office
Dr Jennifer Graham, CEFAS

Location: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter, EX4 4QJ

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the GW4 Alliance of research-intensive universities: the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five unique and prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in the Earth, Environmental and Life sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in scientific research, business, technology and policy-making. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

- A stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,009 p.a. for 2019/20) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
- Payment of university tuition fees;
- A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
- A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
- Travel and accomodation is covered for all compulsory DTP cohort events
- No course fees for courses run by the DTP

We are currently advertising projects for a total of 10 studentships at the University of Exeter.

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, off-shore 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).). Now is the perfect time to develop them for our region.

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.

The student 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?
The student will be expected to spend at least 3 months working on site at Met Office HQ, Exeter, where they will receive hands-on training and experience in running Met Office ocean forecast models.

Collaboration with partners at CEFAS will provide additional insight into applications of these results. For example, how predicting changes in temperature or salinity may help to predict changes in ocean ecosystems.

Funding Notes

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2020 entry. For eligible students, the studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,009 per annum for 2019-20.


References / Background reading list

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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