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(STFC DTP) Analysis and modelling of planetary atmospheres

Project Description

This exciting PhD project will bring together an interdisciplinary supervisory team to investigate weather and climate on other planets within our solar system. The aim is to improve understanding of planetary atmospheres and build on this research capability within the School of Earth and Environment at The University of Manchester.

The primary topic of study for the project will be the Martian atmosphere. Currently Mars is still losing atmosphere, but there are strong indications that it may have once been as thick as Earth’s with an active water cycle. Mars’ modern-day weather is dominated by the day-night and seasonal cycles as the atmosphere has low thermal inertia and responds quickly to changes in heat input. It also has an extreme Earth desert-like climate and experiences dust storms on local, regional and planetary scales, which are highly variable and difficult to predict. Once the planet is shrouded in dust, the atmosphere becomes more quiescent and dust loadings slowly subside, but this can take more than 50 days.

Desert-like dust particles are known to exert a strong influence on cloud formation (Connolly et al. 2009) and indeed the Phoenix Mission (Dickinson et al. 2010) has clearly demonstrated the presence of cirrus-like clouds in the planetary boundary layer of Mars bearing strong similarities to frontal cirrus clouds on Earth. These "cirrus-like" clouds exhibit ice water contents similar to those on earth and, like earth cirrus, also display ice virga; thus the physical processes acting in them are similar and reasonably well understood.

Surface orography of Mars taken with the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA)
Surface orography of Mars taken with the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter showing the difference between the low Northern Hemisphere and the cratered Southern Hemisphere.

Surface measurements of the topography of Mars indicate a striking difference between northern and southern hemispheres. The north is 5km lower and smoother than the heavily cratered southern hemisphere. This contrast is thought to either be due to internal geological processes, or a large impact during the early stages of Martian evolution. Hence, it is likely that liquid water present on the surface of Mars flowed from south to north; but also may have formed ponds in the cratered areas in the south. This situation may have created a significant response on the atmospheric circulation, which will be investigated in this project using models.

The aim of the project will be to implement / develop a global simulation of Mars’ atmosphere using planetWRF that can be used to understand how Mars has evolved. It will also be possible to understand the weather patterns that form under different paleo-climatic conditions and how this may have shaped the planet that we see today. By conducting further modelling studies you will investigate the sensitivity to adding water vapour and other greenhouse gases into the simulations (e.g. Kadoya & Tajika, 2014) and the conversion of water vapour into clouds and the impact they have. The investigations may also be run with a high grid resolution over regions of interest in order to facilitate the simulation of convection. The successful candidate may also wish to guide the project in a manner of their own interest as the research develops.


Connolly, P. J., Möhler, O., Field, P. R., Saathoff, H., Burgess, R., Gallagher, M. W., & Choularton, T. W. (2009). Studies of heterogeneous freezing by three different desert dust samples. Atmos. Chem. Phys., 9, 2805–2824.
Dickinson, C., Komguem, L., Whiteway, J. A., Illnicki, M., Popovici, V., Junkermann, W., Hacker, J.(2010). Lidar atmospheric measurements on Mars and Earth. Planetary and Space Science, 59, 942–951.
Kadoya, S., & Tajika, E. (2014). Conditions for Oceans on Earth-Like Planets Orbiting Within the Habitable Zone: Importance of Volcanic CO2 Degassing. The Astrophysical Journal, 790(1997), 107–7.

Related Subjects

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 42.13

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

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