University of Exeter funding: NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship

Atmospheric Drivers of UK flood events: Current State and Future Changes, NERC GW4+, PhD in Mathematics studentship Ref: 3333

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 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.


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

Flooding can have significant socioeconomic and environmental impacts through loss of life and property, and environmental degradation through riverbank erosion and sedimentation. For example, in December 2015, the UK was hit by 2 successive extratropical storms (named Desmond and Eva, see the satellite image below), which caused widespread flooding in the north of England, and caused economic losses estimated between 1.3 and 5.8 billion pounds. Flooding is a catchment response to one or several rainfall events, evident by the distinction between pluvial (rainfall event driven) and fluvial (saturated catchments driven) floods. Here we are primarily interested in the former − flooding driven mainly by a weather event such as Desmond. These storms can source their moisture from very far away, sometimes with features called atmospheric rivers, and so can depend on conditions in those remote locations. Heavy rainfall events have increased in intensity in the recent past, with events like Desmond more likely due to human induced climate changes. These heavy rainfall events (or precipitation extremes) are projected to continue to increase in intensity in the future. Vital questions remain as to the shifting footprint of such events and whether new generations of high-resolution climate models can capture the most important features linking the dynamical weather systems and flooding. In this project a goal will be to understand the atmospheric conditions and large-scale set up that brings the necessary moisture to lead to flooding events of different time and space scales, to better link the knowledge and understanding of atmospheric dynamics with the societal and environmental impacts of these events. 

Project Aims and Methods

In this project the candidate will be able to take advantage of the expertise and experience of the academic (University of Exeter and Cardiff University) and non-academic (CEH and Met Office) supervisory team that links understanding of extreme rainfall events and associated dynamics, flooding and impacts research, and climate modelling. The aim will be to answer questions of both scientific and societal importance on the formation and occurrence of extreme rainfall and flooding events, and how the footprint of these events may change in a future climate. The project will involve the analysis of several datasets of atmospheric observations, flooding information, and climate model output, and will exploit new model simulations as part of the World Climate Research Program climate model database, specifically the high-resolution simulations produced by the Met Office. With the guidance of the supervisors, the candidate will be given the opportunity to modify the research focus and weighting of the different aspects of the project to reflect their interests and strengths. This studentship comes with a generous budget for travel and training (£15k), with the potential for additional research visit support for a suitable candidate.


The candidate will be based within the internationally recognised Exeter Climate Systems Research Centre. They will receive training on data analysis of large datasets (Big Data), climate modelling, scientific writing and presenting in accordance with the postgraduate programme at the University of Exeter, GW4 initiatives such as the Water Security Alliance, and through participation in Met Office training. Further opportunities for networking and training are facilitated through networks of the supervisors, such collaborative opportunities with the as the Australian Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes (funding will be provided by the centre for a visit to Australia of a suitable candidate), and scientists and scholars affiliated with the Cardiff University Water Research Institute.

CASE or Collaborative Partner 
Formal links with the Met Office (specific to this project and also on a University-wide scale) ensures access to expertise in modelling of extremes and data from their high-resolution simulations. Extended work visits to the Met Office will allow the candidate to learn their computer systems, including the possibility of training on key software tools such as Python. Supervisors based at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology will provide guidance on matters in relation to hydrological and environmental impacts of regional extreme precipitation events, i.e. flooding, in a historical and future (warmer) climate context.

Fig.1 Infrared satellite image of storm Desmond on 5th December 2015. The cloud band over the north of the UK can be seen stretching all the way to Florida. This storm was associated with an atmospheric river that links the tropics and the midlatitudes. (Image

Fig.2 Starting from the location of a heavy rainfall event over eastern Europe, air parcel trajectories show the sources of moisture for this event (from Winschall et al 2014). This is an example of the type of dynamical analysis that can be performed using observations and climate model output.

References / Background reading list

Winschall et al (2014), Comparison of Eulerian and Lagrangian moisture source diagnostics – the flood event in eastern Europe in May 2010, Atmos. Chem. Phys. 14, 6605-6619.
Catto, J. L. (2016), Extratropical cyclone classification and its use in climate studies, Reviews of Geophysics, doi: 10.1002/2016RG000519.
Otto F. et al. (2018),Climate change increases the probability of heavy rains in Northern England/Southern Scotland like those of storm Desmond—a real-time event attribution revisited, Environmental Research Letters, 13, 024006.

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
If you do not upload your references when submitting your application, 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 either upload them with your application or arrange for them to be submitted by 29 April 2019.

Please note: 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 29 April 2019.  Interviews will be held week commencing 20 May 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:29th April 2019
Value:£14,777 per annum for 2018-19
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries