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Anglia Ruskin University ARU Featured PhD Programmes
Anglia Ruskin University ARU Featured PhD Programmes

What makes geomagnetic storms so special? (Advert Reference: STFC21/EE/MPEE/RAEJonathan)

Faculty of Engineering and Environment

Wednesday, April 28, 2021 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
Newcastle United Kingdom Applied Mathematics Astronomy Astrophysics Computational Physics Data Science Environmental Physics Fluid Mechanics Geophysics Mathematical Modelling Space Science

About the Project

Earth’s magnetic environment is bathed by the solar wind, transferring significant energy and momentum into near-Earth space. Severe “space weather” happens when one or more solar ejecta impact the near-Earth environment, energising particles to relativistic energies and driving unwanted additional currents at ground level in transmission lines and pipelines. These space weather effects pose a significant hazard to modern technology and, as a consequence, are important enough to be included in the UK Government’s National Risk Register.

More benign space weather is well understood. Energy from the solar wind is stored in the stretched fields and plasma of the Earth’s magnetosphere. However, during storm-times our theories are stretched to the breaking point. In storm times, huge currents are induced in power grids such that transformers can be destroyed, spacecraft can experience disastrous electrical discharge events, and communications can be severely disrupted. In near-Earth space, the radiation environment can disappear, and return 1000s of times stronger in minutes. Our goal at Northumbria University is to develop new understanding to describe exactly why and how geomagnetic storms are so different. Potential scientific topics include, but are not limited to:

-       What are the necessary solar wind drivers for extreme space weather events?

-       How and why are storm-time substorms different?

-       What controls rapid changes in the radiation belts during storms?

We seek to work with a student on any of these key problems, developing new theory, new models, or new analysis techniques to shed new light on how and why extreme space weather events happen. You will have access to observations from a wide array of scientific spacecraft including the NASA Van Allen Probes, Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission and THEMIS spacecraft. You will have access to new modelling capabilities and advanced data analysis through machine learning. As the project develops, you will have the opportunity to input your research into state-of-the-art modelling and collaborate with national and international colleagues.     

Training opportunities: In addition to regular one-to-one meetings with supervisors, you will be encouraged to participate in wider group activities to build up your academic profile and collaborate with colleagues. You will have access to specific Masters-level modules to build up knowledge and skills in subject-specific areas, and a series of seminars from national and international experts in the field. You will benefit from national summer schools that develop both discipline-specific and transferable skills and there will be opportunities to competitively bid to attend international summer schools (e.g. IAGA summer school, NSF GEM Summer workshop, Los Alamos Space Weather Summer School).

Student profile: This project would be suitable for a student with a background in physics, applied mathematics or closely-related physical science. Prior knowledge of space plasma physics is not necessary. Prior knowledge of a programming language is desirable but training in all necessary skills will be provided. 

Further details on this project and other STFC-funded projects within the research group can be found at:

The Principal Supervisor for this project is Professor Jonathan Rae.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

·      Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.

·      Appropriate IELTS score, if required.

·      Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

 For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see 

Please note: Applications that do not include the advert reference (e.g. STFC21/EE/MPEE/RAEJonathan) will not be considered. 

·      You do not need to submit a research proposal for this project as it has already been defined by the supervisor.

·      If you have your own research idea and wish to pursue that, then this is also possible - please indicate this on your application (if this is the case, then please include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words).

Deadline for applications: 28 April 2021

Start Date: 1 October 2021 or 1 March 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to Home* or International (including EU) Students and includes a full stipend, paid for 3.5 years at RCUK rates (for 2021/2, this is £15,609 p.a.) and full tuition fees.
* Please note that in order to be classed as Home Student, candidates must meet the following criteria:
- be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
- have settled status, or
- have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
- have indefinite leave to remain or enter.


Further details on this project and other STFC funded projects can be found at:
A Framework for Understanding and Quantifying the Loss and Acceleration of Relativistic Electrons in the Outer Radiation Belt During Geomagnetic Storms, Murphy, K., Mann, I., Watt, C., Sibeck, D., Rae, J., Ozeke, L., Kanekal, S., Baker, D. May 2020, In: Space Weather
Capturing uncertainty in magnetospheric ultralow frequency wave models, Bentley, S., Watt, C., Rae, J., Owens, M., Murphy, K., Lockwood, M., Sandhu, J. Apr 2019, In: Space Weather
How do Ultra‐Low Frequency waves access the inner magnetosphere during geomagnetic storms?, Rae, J., Murphy, K., Watt, C., Sandhu, J., Georgiou, M., Degeling, A., Forsyth, C., Bentley, S., Staples, F., Shi, Q. 16 Oct 2019, In: Geophysical Research Letters
Variations of Field Line Eigenfrequencies With Ring Current Intensity
Sandhu, J. K., Yeoman, T. K. & Rae, I. J., Nov 2018, In : Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics. 123, 11, p. 9325-9339
The Global Statistical Response of the Outer Radiation Belt During Geomagnetic Storms
Murphy, K., Watt, C., Mann, I., Rae, J., Sibeck, D., Boyd, A., Forsyth, C., Turner, D., Claudepierre, S., Baker, D., Spence, H., Reeves, G., Blake, J. B. & Fennell, J., 16 May 2018, In : Geophysical Research Letters. 45, 9, p. 3783-3792

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