University of Exeter funding: NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship

Benefit of high resolution models for climate predictions. PhD in Mathematics (NERC GW4+ DTP) Ref: 3701

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Prof Adam Scaife, Department of Mathematics, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors

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

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 GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the GW4 Alliance of research-intensive universities: the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five unique and prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in the Earth, Environmental and Life sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in scientific research, business, technology and policy-making. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • A stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,009 p.a. for 2019/20) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
  • Payment of university tuition fees;
  • A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
  • A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
  • Travel and accommodation is covered for all compulsory DTP cohort events
  • No course fees for courses run by the DTP

We are currently advertising projects for a total of 10 studentships at the University of Exeter.


Students who are resident in EU countries are eligible for the full award on the same basis as UK residents.  Applicants resident outside of the EU (classed as International for tuition fee purposes) are not eligible for DTP funding. Residency rules are complex and if you have not been resident in the UK or EU for the 3 years prior to the start of the studentship, please apply and we will check eligibility upon shortlisting.

Project Background 

Atmospheric climate models have increased in resolution over several decades since their inception and now typically run at 50-100km resolution globally. However, the representation of observed climate has not yet fully converged and errors remain.  Several fluid dynamical mechanisms have been proposed for what missing effects remain at current model resolutions and this is an active research area as computing power grows and permits yet higher resolution. One such process is ‘eddy feedback’, whereby small scale eddies and waves feedback positively on large-scale features in the atmospheric circulation. Such a feedback is thought to be important in maintaining the Atlantic jet stream, for example. This process occurs through eddy fluxes of momentum and vorticity in the atmosphere, but recent studies suggest it is too weak in current general circulation models when run at climate resolution.  This project will quantify these deficits using a range of climate model resolutions and investigate its implications for long-range forecasting and climate change.

Project Aims and Methods 

This project will test for a greater climate response to imposed conditions in the sea surface temperature and sea ice cover when climate model resolution is increased. The project will investigate eddy feedback in regional climate simulations using our latest high-resolution global models (~12km resolution). It will first make use of existing simulations, but there is also scope for the student to perform new simulations to further test ideas in collaboration with CASE partner scientists at the Met Office. Measures for determining the strength of eddy feedback will be calculated and examined, providing an opportunity to gain expertise in this important and poorly understood area of climate dynamics.  It is anticipated that the project will focus particularly on the importance of model resolution for simulating the effects of sea surface temperature and sea ice anomalies on the Atlantic jet stream. The potential implications of this work are large because seasonal, decadal and perhaps even longer climate predictions could all be affected by a lack of eddy feedback in current climate models. 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. One area of potential study could be the atmospheric response to Arctic sea-ice loss. The project could perform very high-resolution simulations with perturbed sea ice and compare these to ‘standard’ resolution experiments being run elsewhere as part of the international Polar Amplification Model Intercomparison Project. 

Atmospheric vorticity in a ~12km resolution climate model.  Yellow indicates high vorticity



Atmospheric vorticity in a ~100km resolution climate model.

Candidate Requirements

The candidate must have achieved, or be expected to achieve, a first class or 2:1 degree or equivalent in Meteorology, Oceanography, Mathematics, Physics, or a related branch of the physical or mathematical sciences. 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) and an ambition to work in climate dynamics would be advantageous.

CASE or Collaborative Partner

The Met Office will provide a placement during the project for the student to gain experience of working in a government research environment on a high priority research question.  Met Office research and development is particularly interested in this issue as deficits have been found in the amplitude of forecast circulation anomalies on seasonal timescales – the so-called signal to noise paradox – which remains unsolved and it has been suggested that the response to forcing factors such as sea ice variations may be partly responsible.


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 and the Met Office. The candidate will be able to participate in student training courses and networking/social events held by the Met Office and the NERC GW4+ DTP, in addition to those provided at the University of Exeter. There will be opportunities to travel overseas for conferences and collaboration.

References / Background reading list 

Scaife et al. (2019), Does increased atmospheric resolution improve seasonal climate predictions? Atm. Sci. Lett., 2019; 20:e922.

Lorenz and Hartman (2003), Eddy–Zonal Flow Feedback in the Northern Hemisphere Winter, J. Climate, 16, 1212–1227.

Scaife and Smith (2018), A signal to noise paradox in climate science, npj Clim. Atm. Sci., 1, 28.

Smith et al., 2018: The Polar Amplification Model Intercomparison Project (PAMIP) contribution to CMIP6: investigating the causes and consequences of polar amplification. Geoscientific Model Development, 12, 1139-1164.

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


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.

Reference information
You will be asked to name 2 referees as part of the application process, however we will not expect receipt of references until after the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

If you are shortlisted for interview, please ensure that your two academic referees email their references to the, 7 days prior to the interview dates.  Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the deadline.

References should be submitted by your referees 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 1600 hours GMT Monday 6 January 2020.  Interviews will be held between 10 and 21 February 2020.  For more information about the NERC GW4+ DPT please visit

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email  Project-specific queries should be directed to the lead 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:6th January 2020
Value:£15,009 per annum for 2019-20
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries