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Robust future climate projections for Europe

Faculty of Environment

About the Project

1. Overview

This PhD project offers the exciting opportunity to perform cutting edge climate research alongside leading scientists at the University of Leeds, the Met Office, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in the USA and Imperial College London. The objective is to advance the science for projections of North Atlantic and European climate, which have been hampered for a long time by low confidence and poor agreement amongst climate models. You will undertake visits to the Met Office, NCAR and Imperial College and learn to perform and analyse climate model simulations using state-of-the-art computer modelling and data analysis tools.

2. The research problem

To mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, decision-makers require knowledge of the risk of high impact weather and climate events. In the UK and Europe, the jet stream and storm track sit at the heart of many weather and climate extremes. Future projections from different climate models show opposite trends in the jet stream (Shepherd, 2014), leading to large uncertainties in the estimated risk of floods, wind storms and heat waves. Current climate projections are therefore of limited value for decision-makers. This PhD will tackle this challenge head on by developing robust future climate projections for Europe and the North Atlantic region.

Recent studies have identified serious limitations of climate models in simulating North Atlantic weather and climate. This includes underestimating predictable variations in the jet stream (Scaife and Smith, 2018; Smith et al., 2020) and underestimating multi-decadal variability (Simpson et al., 2018). The causes of this behaviour are currently unknown and rectifying these problems is a matter of urgency for the climate prediction community.

Tantalising results suggest that North Atlantic climate simulations improve at very high resolutions (at scales smaller than 10 km) (Scaife et al., 2019). This may be because air-sea coupling is important in the North Atlantic, for example through interaction of sharp sea surface temperature fronts and weather systems (Czaja et al., 2019), but these processes are generally poorly simulated in standard models. New advances in computing capabilities mean we are now at the dawn of being able to simulate these processes in much more detail. This PhD project will investigate the hypothesis that mesoscale air-sea interactions play an important role for European climate projections and that correctly capturing these processes produces more robust future projections. These hypotheses will be tested through a cutting-edge ultra-high-resolution modelling framework using the world-leading Met Office Hadley Centre and Community Earth System Models.

Please contact the lead supervisor before applying.

3. Objectives

The specific objectives of the project will be adapted to fit the interests of the student and to pursue the most promising avenues of enquiry. Specific research objectives could include:

a) Use observations and state-of-the-art model simulations to investigate the importance of air-sea coupling for North Atlantic weather systems
b) Perform and analyse ultra-high-resolution global climate model simulations and determine whether the North Atlantic jet stream is more realistically represented when small scale processes are resolved
c) Investigate the impact of model errors in remote regions outside of the Atlantic (such as in the Pacific) on European climate projections using a novel ‘nudging’ technique that allows the model to mimic observations

The topics each offer the potential for innovative cutting-edge research and also freedom for the student to expand the research in the direction of their own interests. The results of the project, in the form of more robust climate projections for Europe, will be valuable to the UK Climate Projections (UKCP) team and the 2022 UK Climate Change Risk Assessment Exercise.

4. Training and research support

You will join a vibrant and welcoming group of PhD and postdoctoral researchers within the Physical Climate Change and Dynamics and Clouds research groups in the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science at the University of Leeds. You will benefit from an excellent wider research environment that includes technical support through the Centre for Environmental Modelling and Computing, access to Met Office models and data through the Leeds-Met Office Academic Partnership, and the Priestley International Centre for Climate, which promotes interdisciplinary climate research in Leeds. You will be part of the Doctoral Training Partnership PANORAMA cohort, which fosters a lively community and provides many dedicated research, training and social opportunities.

5. Student profile

A good first degree (1 or high 2:1), Masters degree or equivalent in a physical or mathematical discipline (e.g., Physics, Mathematics, Meteorology, Climate Science etc.). A desire to learn new programming and modelling techniques is essential.

Funding Notes

We offer 3.5 years fully funded studentships including full tuition fees for all successful applicants, and stipend at the UKRI rate plus a training grant.


Czaja, A., Frankignoul, C., Minobe, S. et al. Simulating the Midlatitude Atmospheric Circulation: What Might We Gain From High-Resolution Modeling of Air-Sea Interactions?. Curr Clim Change Rep 5, 390–406 (2019).

Scaife, A.A., Smith, D. A signal-to-noise paradox in climate science. npj Clim Atmos Sci 1, 28 (2018).

Scaife, AA, Camp, J, Comer, R, et al. Does increased atmospheric resolution improve seasonal climate predictions? Atmos Sci Lett. 2019; 20:e922.

Shepherd, T. Atmospheric circulation as a source of uncertainty in climate change projections. Nature Geosci 7, 703–708 (2014).

Simpson, I. R., C. Deser, K. A. McKinnon, and E. A. Barnes, 2018: Modeled and Observed Multidecadal Variability in the North Atlantic Jet Stream and Its Connection to Sea Surface Temperatures. J. Climate, 31, 8313–8338,

Smith, D.M., Eade, R., Scaife, A.A. et al. Robust skill of decadal climate predictions. npj Clim Atmos Sci 2, 13 (2019).

Smith, D.M., Scaife, A.A., Eade, R. et al. North Atlantic climate far more predictable than models imply. Nature 583, 796–800 (2020).

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