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Understanding the influence of Anthropogenic Aerosols on the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation and related climate impacts

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  • Full or part time
    Prof R Sutton
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

The surface temperatures of the North Atlantic Ocean have fluctuated between periods, many decades long, of relative warmth and cold (see figure below). These changes in the North Atlantic have been linked to extreme weather such as droughts and floods across Europe, Africa and North America, as well changes in the number of potentially destructive Atlantic hurricanes.

It has long been thought that changes in the strength of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a vast ocean current that moves warm water into the North Atlantic, has been responsible these for multi-decadal swings in temperature in the North Atlantic. However, recent work at the Met Office has suggested that human activity, through the emission of tiny particulate matter – known as aerosols – from industry in North America and Europe, may have contributed to the observed changes in the North Atlantic. Since some of the aerosol particles act to reflect sunlight, particularly by changing the properties of marine cloud, changes in the rate of their emission have the potential to affect Atlantic temperatures. It is also possible that this pollution affects the strength of the ocean currents in particular the Atlantic Overturning Circulation. However, the extent to which this occurs, or how, is not well understood.

This project will seek to understand the way in which human emissions of aerosols can affect ocean circulation and in particular the Atlantic Overturning Circulation, by using the latest state-of-the-art climate model from the Met Office. By altering the magnitude of human emissions of the aerosol pollution within the model, the student will study the impact of humans on the multi-decadal changes in Atlantic Ocean temperatures and circulation. Because the temperature of the North Atlantic is linked to extreme weather events, the project will also provide further understanding of how human activity can modulate weather extremes over Europe and beyond.

There will be opportunities for extended visits and placements to the Met Office in Exeter during the project.

The project is supervised by Prof Rowan Sutton (University of Reading), and co-supervised by Dr Jon Robson (University of Reading), Dr Nick Dunstone (Met Office) and Dr Doug Smith (Met Office).

The full project description is available at:

Funding Notes

This project is for students with their own funding.

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 and a keen interest in understanding what drives our climate.

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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