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The formation of ice in clouds and the impact on climate

Project Description

The formation of ice in clouds is one of the least well understood aspects of the planet’s climate system. Special aerosol particles, known as ice-nucleating particles, are needed to trigger ice formation but their sources, characteristics and distribution around the globe are very poorly defined.

The aim of this PhD project is to understand how ice-nucleating particles affect clouds and climate

The project will use a combination of the latest laboratory measurements of ice-nucleating particle properties, new field observations of ice-nucleating particles, high-resolution model simulations, global climate model simulations and satellite observations.
Only very recently this kind of research was not feasible because our understanding of INP was too poor and our models were not sophisticated enough. We can now run very realistic high-resolution model simulations of clouds, and we have a good enough understanding of ice-nucleating particles from laboratory experiments to simulate them on a global scale.

Previous collaborative PhD research by this group of supervisors led to the discovery of how very low concentrations of ice-nucleating particles over the Southern Ocean can explain large climate model errors (Vergara-Temprado et al., 2018). The aim of this project is to extend the research to other cloud types and environments to understand how ice-nucleating particle concentrations influence cloud properties and climate.

The project will involve:
i) Understanding the global distribution of ice-nucleating particles. This will involve collation of atmospheric ice-nucleating particle measurement data from around the world in order to identify regions where we are missing important particle sources in the global model. The aim is to improve global model simulations with a view to incorporating these particles in climate simulations. The ice-nucleating particle fields will also be used to drive high-resolution regional model simulations.

ii) Simulating the response of clouds to changes in ice-nucleating particles. You will use an advanced meteorological model of clouds (based on the Met Office forecast model) to simulate how different types of clouds respond to changes in ice-nucleating particles. Simulations will be evaluated against satellite and other data. The aim is to work out which clouds are most sensitive to ice-nucleating particles and how they affect climate-relevant cloud properties like reflectivity. The project will explore ice-nucleating particle effects on various mixed-phase cloud environments, such as over remote oceans, deep convection, the Arctic or cyclones.

iii) Exploring the potential implications for climate. You will work with researchers at the Met Office using your results to understand how best to simulate ice-nucleating particles and their effects on a global scale in a future version of the UK’s climate model.

Funding Notes

This project is a CASE award with the Met Office. This provides £1000/year to supplement the Research & Training Support Grant for the duration of the studentship. The Met Office will also meet the extra expenses (such as travel and subsistence) incurred by the student visiting and working at the Met Office and contribute in cash or in kind towards necessary materials whilst the student is based at the Met Office.


Vergara-Temprado J, Miltenberger AK, Furtado K, Grosvenor DP, Shipway BJ, Hill AA, Wilkinson JM, Field PR, Murray BJ, Carslaw KS. 2018. Strong control of Southern Ocean cloud reflectivity by ice-nucleating particles. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 115, pp. 2687-2692 (

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 79.20

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

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