Paleo Climate and Global Warming. Mathematics NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship Ref: 3130

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

The Studentship will be awarded on the basis of merit and will commence in September 2018.  For eligible students the award will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum (2017/2018), 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:  Prof. Geoffrey Vallis, (Mathematics, University of Exeter)
Co-Supervisor: Prof.  Mat Collins, (Mathematics, University of Exeter)

Project Description:
Earth has warmed about 1 degree Celsius over the last century because of the increased level of greenhouse gases, and most likely will continue to warm in the decades ahead. However, in the past Earth’s climate was even warmer than it is today -- in the so-called equable climates of 65 million years ago palm trees and crocodiles lived in north Canada. These past climates are sometimes thought to be analogues of what is in store for us in the future. However, the continents and land surfaces were different in those past climates, greatly complicating comparisons, and very few quantitative studies of the relation between the two climates have been carried out.  Are the warm climates of the past really analogues of the future, or is this a myth?


Project aims and methods:
This project aims to quantitatively understand the relationship between the warm climates of the far past (such as the early Eocene) and the global warming of the present and near future. The main differences between the past and present Earth are in the level of greenhouse gases (believed to be much higher in the past), the configuration of the continents, and the nature of the land surface. We will use a very flexible climate model, Isca, that will enable us to pass continuously in parameter space from a climate resembling that of today, to one of the near future, to one of the far past, varying CO2 concentrations, continental configurations and land properties independently.

Using the modelling results in conjunction with basic theory our goal will be to truly quantify the similarities and differences between global warming and the warm past climates. Armed with this knowledge, we can go on to study the factors that make a planet habitable and if global warming were to continue unabated, understand what kind of extreme climate might be in store for future generations.

A suitable candidate will have a first or upper second class degree in a quantitative science (e.g. physics or mathematics) and a strong interest in climate or Earth Sciences. Some experience in coding or numerical modelling is helpful but not required.

You will receive training in quantitative approaches to Climate Sciences. For example, you will learn how to use numerical climate models as well as becoming well grounded in the theory and application of geophysical fluid dynamics. There will be an opportunity to take advanced courses, attend attend summer schools and give presentations at national and international meetings. You will join an active group of like-minded students and postdocs, and will work both on an individual project and as part of a team.  At the end of the PhD you will be able to function as an independent scientist.

Vallis, G.K., et al., 2018. Isca, v1.0: A framework for the global modelling of the atmospheres of earth and other planets at varying levels of complexity. Geo. Model Dev., 2018. doi:10.5194/gmd-2017-243.

Haywood, Alan M., et al. "Are there pre-Quaternary geological analogues for a future greenhouse warming?." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 369.1938 (2011): 933-956

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

Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.


Application deadline:8th May 2018
Value:£14,553 per annum for 2017-18
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR

How to apply

To apply for this funded studentship, please click and follow the 'Apply Now' button on this webpage.

During the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.
•       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.

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 8th May 2018.  Interviews will be held at the University of Exeter in the week commencing 21st May

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email 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.