Connections between tropical and polar climate change, NERC GW4+ DTP, PhD in Mathematics Ref: 3322

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Prof James Screen, Department of Mathematics, College of Engineering and Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors

Dr Doug Smith, Met Office, Hadley Centre

Dr Thomas Bracegirdle,  British Antarctic Survey

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

Main Information

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

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 details

Despite being thousands of kilometres apart, climatic changes in the tropical and polar regions of the planet are highly interconnected. In recent decades, the Arctic has warmed more than twice as fast as the global average – a phenomenon known as Arctic amplification. Emerging evidence suggests that a substantial portion of Arctic warming may be driven remotely from the tropics. Yet, the atmospheric and oceanic processes through which the tropics influence the Arctic are not fully understood. There is also increasing recognition that the effects of Arctic warming are not limited to the Arctic: what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic (see this explainer video: State-of-the-art climate model experiments suggest that Arctic sea-ice loss can trigger climate changes as far away as the tropics. But again, a detailed understanding of such connections is lacking. Lying in between the tropics and the poles are the mid-latitudes, where a vast number of people live. Weather patterns in mid-latitudes are affected by both tropical and polar influences, but separating out one regions’ influence on another is not an easy task. Recently there has been much speculation about a possible link between Arctic warming and increased extreme weather in mid-latitudes. This exciting and cutting-edge project will explore these connections between climate changes in the tropics, mid-latitudes and polar regions.

Project Aims and Methods

To make progress in these important research areas, the student will make heavy use of output from a new international climate modelling activity: the Polar Amplification Model Intercomparison Project (PAMIP). PAMIP includes novel model experiments to help elucidate both the causes and consequences of Arctic amplification. With support from the supervisors, the candidate will have the opportunity to shape the project design to focus on aspects of the problem of most interest to them. For example, there is scope to focus on connections to/from the Arctic, or Antarctic, or both. It is anticipated that the project will involve a mix of analysis of observed climate records and climate model output, and potentially, opportunities for the candidate to learn how to conduct their own climate model simulations as part of the PAMIP. The candidate will be primarily based at the University of Exeter, a member of the prestigious Russell Group and a centre for world-leading climate science. They will work closely with other students and postdoctoral researchers in the polar climate group (, lead by Prof Screen. This studentship comes with a generous budget for travel and training (£15k), with additional CASE support (£1k per year) from the UK Met Office.

CASE or Collaborative Partner 

This project is in collaboration with the Met Office Hadley Centre (MOHC) and the British Antarctic Survey. The MOHC is a globally recognised centre for climate modelling and is a leading partner in the PAMIP. The candidate will benefit from regular visits to the MOHC, located nearby in Exeter, and to the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, gaining exposure to a non-University research environment. The candidate will be able to participate in student training courses and networking/social events held by the Met Office and British Antarctic Survey, in addition to those provided at the University of Exeter.


The candidate will gain experience of cutting-edge climate science, learning skills in data analysis, scientific figure and paper preparation, and climate modelling. They will benefit from working alongside internationally recognised climate scientists at the University of Exeter, Met Office and British Antarctic Survey. As part of international project, the PhD candidate will have the opportunity to travel to overseas partners for collaboration, and to contribute to the wider scientific goals of the PAMIP.


Fig.1 Arctic sea ice has declined rapidly in recent decades, in large part due to manmade global warming. These two images visualise the summer sea ice cover in 1984 and 2016, obtained from satellite observations. The thickest ice is coloured whitest. This dramatic loss of sea ice may trigger further climatic changes across the planet, as far away as the tropics.



Fig. 2 California drought has been linked to Arctic sea-ice loss. Arctic sea-ice loss induces changes in the global energy balance, effecting tropical rainfall. Decreased tropical convection then drives a northward propagating Rossby wave-train, forming a ridge in the North Pacific, which steers wet tropical air masses away from California.

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
The candidate must have achieved, or be expected to achieve, a first class or 2:1 degree in Meteorology, Oceanography, Mathematics, Physics, Environmental Science, or related field. A Master’s level qualification with previous experience of conducting independent research is desirable. Knowledge of scientific programming languages (e.g., Matlab, Python, IDL, R) would be advantageous.

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the  project


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, 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  Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisor.

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