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Thermodynamic constraints on tropical cyclone intensity and frequency

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  • Full or part time
    Dr R Tailleux
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

Project Description

Tropical cyclones (TCs) represent one of the most damaging weather hazards for populations and infrastructure
over many parts of the planet. However, accurately forecasting both the track and intensity of individual
storms, as well as predicting how the statistics for TC numbers and intensities will change as a result of
global warming, remain a challenge for numerical weather forecast and climate models respectively. Making
progress requires improving the representation of dynamical constraints (such as the vertical wind shear
or the large-scale circulation in which TCs are embedded) and thermodynamic ones (such as sea surface
temperatures, relative humidity, and atmospheric stability) that control the behaviour of TCs.

Thermodynamic theories predicting the maximum potential intensity of hurricanes play a major role in
helping formulate many research questions such as what are the processes controlling TC intensification or
how TC intensities may change in a warmer climate. It is increasingly realised, however, that the Carnot
theory of heat engines on which such theories are based has many limitations, for it is not well suited to
the study of transient moist atmospheric phenomena, while also failing to recognise the possibility for the
thermodynamic efficiency to vary with time or for internal irreversible processes (diffusion, irreversible
latent heat release) to play a role in TC variations in intensity.

The main objective of this PhD will be to further develop and test an alternative approach to constructing
a thermodynamic theory of TC intensity based on a recently formulated extension of Lorenz theory of
available potential energy (APE) to a moist atmosphere. APE is more suited to the study of TC energetics,
as it is the quantity that is directly exchanged with kinetic energy. Unlike Carnot theory, it is suitable
to the study of transient phenomena, and will be used to elucidate the relative roles of internal processes
versus surface enthalpy fluxes in controlling the intensification and decay of TCs. Using a combination of
idealised and realistic approaches, the new APE framework will be used to understand the importance of
model formulation and resolution on forecasts of track and intensities in weather forecasting models, as well
as the nature of the thermodynamic constraints on the numbers and intensities of TC in climate models.

The project will include possibilities to engage with other dynamical and tropical meteorologists both at the
Department and at national and international conferences.

The project is supervised by Remi Tailleux (University of Reading), and co-supervised by Chris Holloway (University of Reading), and Pier-Luigi Vidale (University of Reading).

The full project description is available at:

Funding Notes

Funding would be via the NERC SCENARIO Doctoral Training Partnership:

To apply for this PhD project please visit:

This project would be suitable for students with a degree in physics, mathematics or a closely related environmental
or physical science with a strong interest in moist thermodynamic processes.

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 75.68

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

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