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SCENARIO NERC DTP - Quantifying the risk of high impact space weather events for the power industry

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  • Full or part time
    Prof M Owens
    Dr A Ruffenach
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Technological infrastructures, such as power grids and telecommunications networks, are vulnerable to space weather. While most hardware is engineered to be resilient against common, moderate space weather, it can be significantly impacted or even fail during rare, extreme space weather events. Efficiently engineering resilience into critical systems requires accurate estimates of “worst-case” scenarios, such as a “1-in-1000 year solar storm”, that the system can be designed to endure in a predictable manner. A common approach is to develop a statistical model for a class of extreme event, for example solar flare occurrence, and to use this model to estimate the maximum event size that will probably be observed in a specified return period.

Although this general approach can be effective, for space weather there are a number of challenges. Firstly, comprehensive space weather observations only cover the space age, approximately 60 years, with fewer and poorer quality observations spanning back approximately 150 years. Given the solar cycle is approximately 11 years, these data span a relatively short period in terms of space climate. Secondly, many of the data commonly used to assess the severity of space weather events are global metrics, which are often poor indicators of likely impact on local scales. Finally, as space climate changes over centuries, observations made over recent decades become less representative of conditions we should expect in the coming decades. Thus when undertaking statistical analysis of historic data, it is vital that physical constraints on the system, such as energetic arguments about limits on solar flare size, be incorporated.

This project will assess which space weather observations and measures are most appropriate for predicting the impact of space weather events on UK and global power infrastructure, and will then statistically model these data and the known physical constraints on extreme space weather, providing estimates of storm magnitude return periods.

Training opportunities:
The student will have the opportunity to attend space physics summer schools in the UK and US. The student will undertake an extended placement at EDF Energy (TBC).

To hear more about this project please follow the link:

To read more about this project please follow the link:

Funding Notes

The project is part of the SCENARIO Doctoral Training Partnership and is potentially fully-funded, subject to selection based on candidate excellence. Funding is available for UK or EU students. Funding is not available for international students.

To apply, please refer to the SCENARIO website at

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