NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship: Land-sea climate correlations in the American tropics during two abrupt climate changes Ref: 2291

About the award

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus six Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Met Office, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see

At least 4 fully-funded studentships that encompass the breadth of earth and environmental sciences are being offered to start in September 2017 at Exeter.  The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,296 per annum for 2016-2017, research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.


Main supervisor: Dr Dunia H. Urrego, University of Exeter
Co-supervisor: Prof Richard D. Pancost, University of Bristol

Location: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter, Devon

Project Description:

The last glacial period was punctuated by multiple abrupt climate fluctuations that are characterised by a magnitude of change up to 50% that experienced during a glacial-interglacial transition. The signature of these events is global although the magnitude and direction of change has been shown to be regionally variable. Variability in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has been suggested as one of the primary drivers of abrupt climate variability. However, an alternative scenario where the modulation of abrupt climate change originates in the tropical regions is yet to be carefully explored. A pressing contemporary concern is that human-induced increases in atmospheric CO2 and the warming predicted for the 21st century have the potential to intensify the impacts of this natural variability. Hence it is crucial that we understand the mechanisms behind these rapid shifts in climate.

This project will address land-sea correlations in the American tropics by combining oceanic and terrestrial tracers from marine sedimentary sequences. High-resolution data of vegetation-based atmospheric change and sea surface temperature (SST) changes will be produced from two marine sequences from the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP). Climate reconstructions over land will be based on fossil-pollen records of vegetation dynamics and SST will be reconstructed using Uk37 at the NERC LSMSF Facility in Bristol. The project will concentrate on quantifying the tropical climatic signature of two past abrupt climate fluctuations between 18,000 and 12,000 years ago: Heinrich stadial 1 and Greenland Interstadial 1. Phase relationships between oceanic and land changes will be constrained using up-to-date statistical techniques. The project will take advantage of two sedimentary sequences strategically located under the influence of three major atmospheric systems in the American tropics: the Inter-tropical convergence zone, the North American Monsoon and the South American Summer Monsoon. This approach is ideal to address questions around the forcing and timing of abrupt climate events in the American tropics because it will produce integrated multi-tracer data based on direct comparisons between marine and atmospheric markers from the same sequence. Results from this project will therefore allow constraining the chronology for the regional expression of HS1 and GI1 in the American tropics.

Entry requirements:

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK.   Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree.  Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.  All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the project  The majority of the studentships are available for applicants who are ordinarily resident in the UK and are classed as UK/EU for tuition fee purposes; however up to 9 fully-funded studentships across the DTP are available for EU/EEA applicants not ordinarily resident in the UK.   Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.

Come and see us at the GW4 Science and Engineering Fair to find out more.


Application deadline:6th January 2017
Value:£14,296 per annum for 2016-17
Duration of award:per year
Contact: CLES PGR Team: +44 (0) 1392 725150/

How to apply


 Click here to apply

Please be aware you will be asked to upload the following documents:

•       CV

•       Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project.

•       Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim transcript if you are still studying.

•       If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current proficiency in English.  For further details of the University’s English language requirements please see

You will be asked to name 2 referees as part of the application process however we will not contact these people until the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 6 January 2017.  Interviews will be held at the University of Exeter between 6 February and 13 February 2017.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone +44 (0)1392 725150 / 723706.  Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisor.

During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

• the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;

• administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.