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Reconstructing the past and predicting the future: what can ice­-cores tell us about climate?

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  • Full or part time
    Prof R Wilkinson
    Prof C Buck
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Supervisor 3: Julie Jones
Department: Department of Geography
Email: [Email Address Removed]

The Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures focuses on advancing the science of sustainability and connecting it with the policy debate around how humans can live in a more sustainable way.

We are recruiting Grantham Scholars who will combine outstanding intellect with a strong commitment to public engagement, leadership and action. If these principles match your ambitions, you are invited to apply for one of our interdisciplinary PhD research projects to help solve the challenges of sustainability. You will be supported by the Grantham Centre through a unique training programme, designed to equip to with the skills to become a policy advocate and leader in sustainability matters.

Your application for this studentship should be accompanied by a CV and a 200 word supporting statement. Your statement should outline your aspirations and motivation for studying in the Grantham Centre, outlining any relevant experience.

Please submit this in the online application. Please note: in online application process please select ’standard PhD’ not DTC option.

Project Description
Statistical expertise can contribute greatly to climate science, particularly in palaeoclimate research, where the quality of the data means that careful treatment of uncertainty is important. Without this, scientific errors can occur, potentially leading to a public loss of confidence (the ‘hockey stick’ and the ‘climategate’ controversies were both due to arguments over the statistical treatment of palaeo data). This project offers the opportunity to work on statistical methodology while also contributing to an important scientific problem.

To understand how the Earth’s climate has evolved over long time-scales we use palaeo-data, such as measurements from ice-cores extracted from glaciers. The information they contain is a combination of global and local temperatures, sea-­ice extent, and polar ice sheet changes. This project will seek to develop statistical methodology to deconvolve these signals to find the most likely combination of temperature, ice-­sheet, and sea ice.

This will require the use and development of advanced statistical methods for analysing computer models, such as emulation, Bayesian inverse problem approaches, and Monte Carlo methods. These tools are increasingly finding application in many areas of science and engineering, and there is a large and active of community of researchers in this area in the UK.

There are no direct measurements of the Earth’s climate from before 1659, and most direct climate measurements do not start until after 1900. Because changes to the climate occur slowly, these measurements are essentially equivalent to only a few independent observations of the climate’s dynamics, making it hard to learn both how and why it changed in the past. However, much longer proxies for climate measurements can be obtained by analysing natural archives of preserved physical and chemical characteristics, such as δ​18O: the ratio of heavy (O­-18) and light oxygen (O­-16) isotopes from ice cores taken from the polar regions. This tells indirectly us about the prevailing climatic conditions at the time.

The core of the project is developing the statistical methodology needed, and consequently the student will be based in the School of Mathematics and Statistics (SoMaS). But the student will also spend time in the Geography Department with Dr Julie Jones, and at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge with external project partner, Dr Louise Sime, developing the scientific knowledge necessary to be able to impact upon the palaeoclimate community.

We are looking for a student who has a strong statistics or maths background (students who studied physics would also be suitable), and who has an interest in working closely with scientists. Knowledge of climate science is not necessary. The project will require the ability to master two disciplines, and will need the student to be proactive in making contact with scientists and finding the relevant information.

Key words
Statistics, palaeoclimate, climate change, uncertainty quantification, computer experiments, Bayesian methodology

Funding Notes

This four year studentship will be fully funded at Home/EU or international rates.

Support for travel and consumables (RTSG) will also be made available at standard rate of £2,627 per annum, with an additional one-off allowance of £1,000 for a computer in the first year. Students will receive an annual stipend of £17,335 in 2015/16, rising with inflation thereafter. Applications should be received and complete by Monday 7th March 2016.

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