Dynamics of Extreme Climates, NERC GW4+ DTP, PhD in Mathematics studentship Ref: 3312

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Prof. Geoffrey Vallis University of Exeter, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences

Additional Supervisors

Dr. Dann Mitchell University of Bristol, School of Geographical Science

Dr. Robin Chadwick Met Office

Location: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter EX4 4QJ

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 five Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, 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 http://nercgw4plus.ac.uk/

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • An index-linked stipend for 3.5 years (currently £14,777 p.a. for 2018/19);
  • Payment of university tuition fees;
  • A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
  • A training budget of £4,000 for specialist training courses and expenses.

Up to 30 fully-funded studentships will be available across the partnership.

Students from EU countries who do not meet the residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award but no stipend.  Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.

Project Background
Earth’s climate is changing, yet it has changed substantially more in the past. Just 20,000 years ago the climate of much of the planet was frigid and glaciers covered much of North America and Northern Europe. And many millions of years ago the climate was a hothouse, with crocodiles roaming between the palm trees in Northern Canada. Although we now have some basic ideas about was caused these climates (namely variations in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, and much increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere), we have little idea of the atmospheric circulation that accompanied them. It is crucial to understand these problems better if we are to understand what might happen to the weather on Earth as the planet warms and, even more fundamentally, if we are to understand the planet on which we live.

Project Aims and Methods 
The project seeks to understand the large-scale circulation of the atmosphere during the extreme climates of the past, both hot and cold, and their relation to the climate of the present day and that of the coming century. The overall focus will be on the atmospheric circulation of very warm and very cold climates. More specifically, the project will explore the factors determining the pole-to-equator temperature difference, which appears to have been much less in the hothouse climates) and how this is affected by water vapour, cloud cover, and the surface boundary conditions. 

The main tool we will use will be a very flexible atmospheric circulation model, Isca, developed at the University of Exeter. The model will enable us to change such things as the composition of the atmosphere, the continental configuration, the ocean heat transport and the cloud cover in a systematic way, mimicking past climates. The numerical model will be used in conjunction with the development and application of basic theory involving fluid dynamics and/or radiative transfer. 

The student will be encouraged to become involved in the project design and model configuration, and depending on the students interest and expertize the project may be focussed more or less on particular climate regimes, and more or less on the modelling aspects or the theoretical interpretation. 

The student will receive training in the use of numerical models of the climate and in the use of high-performance computers. The student will also have the opportunity to take a range of graduate-level modules in climate and the atmospheric sciences at the University of Exeter, as well as the opportunity to attend summer schools in climate modelling, numerical methods, and atmospheric science in the UK and abroad. For example, students may wish to attend the Cambridge/Paris Fluid Dynamics summer school, and/or the NCAS/Met Office Introductory courses in Atmospheric Science and the climate modelling. Recent students of the supervisor have attended schools in the UK, Italy, Norway and France.

The student will emerge from the PhD well prepared for a career in the climate sciences, fluid dynamics or numerical modelling.

Fig.1 Ice age - a climate this project will investigate

Fig.2 Hothouse - a climate this project will investigate

References / Background reading list
1. Vallis, Geoffrey K., et al. "Isca, v1. 0: a framework for the global modelling of the atmospheres of Earth and other planets at varying levels of complexity." (2018).

2. Zachos, James, et al. "Trends, rhythms, and aberrations in global climate 65 Ma to present." Science 292.5517 (2001): 686-693.
Jansen, Eystein, et al. "Paleoclimate." Climate change 2007: the physical science basis; contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007).

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.

Candidate Requirements
A good first degree in the physical sciences, engineering or mathematics, and an interest in the climate and atmospheric circulation.  Skills in programming, numerical modelling and in knowledge of atmospheric sciences or climate are beneficial but not necessary.

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the  project http://www.exeter.ac.uk/postgraduate/apply/english/.

How to apply

In 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.
  • Two References (applicants are recommended to have a third academic referee, if the two academic referees are within the same department/school).

Reference information
You will be asked to name two referees as part of the application process.  It is your responsibility to ensure that your two referees email their references to pgrenquiries@exeter.ac.uk, as we will not make requests for references directly; you must arrange for them to be submitted by 7 January 2019

References should be submitted to us directly in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

All application documents must be submitted in English. Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 7 January 2019.  Interviews will be held between 4 and 15 February 2019.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email pgrenquiries@exeter.ac.uk.  Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisor Prof Geoffrey Vallis.

Data Sharing
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.


Application deadline:7th January 2019
Value:£14,777 per annum for 2018-19
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries pgrenquiries@exeter.ac.uk