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Award details

University of Exeter funding: NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship

Ocean heat waves or frozen seas – Can we make seasonal ocean forecasts? - Physical Geography PhD studentship (NERC GW4+ DTP funded) Ref: 3999

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Dr Paul Halloran, University of Exeter.

Additional Supervisors

Dr Jonathan Tinker, Met Office Hadley Centre

Dr Jennifer Graham, CEFAS

Location: Streatham Campus, University of Exeter, Exeter, Devon.

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 stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,285 p.a. for 2020-21) 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.
  • Up to £750 for travel and accomodation for compulsory cohort events.

Project details

Project Background:

Seasonal forecasting is at the cutting edge of climate science and is used by many (terrestrial) industries, such as agriculture, the energy sector, and commodity trading. The UK shelf seas support a large diverse ecosystem, and many industries (e.g. fisheries, tourism, offshore operations, and shipping). All of these are affected by weather and climate variability, with impacts above and below the sea surface. This drives an appetite for predictions and projections over a wide range of timescales.

While short-term forecasts and long-term climate projections exist for this region, seasonal forecasts are currently lacking. Recent progress in ocean and atmosphere modelling systems at the Met Office provide the potential for seasonal ocean forecasts to be developed. Seasonal forecasts have proved to be valuable in other regions of the world (e.g. U.S.A., Australia, Payne et al. (2017)). We want to work with you to produce the first seasonal forecasts for the waters around the UK, and begin to exploit the potential of such an exciting system.

Project Aims and Methods:

This project will develop a new seasonal forecasting product for the European Northwest Shelf (NWS). There are various approaches available for designing marine forecasts for this region. These include either use of existing global ocean forecasting systems developed at the Met Office, or “downscaling” these global models to provide more detailed information across the region.

You will help develop the key scientific questions of the PhD with the guidance of the supervisory team, based on their existing expertise and interests. However, initial questions may include:

• Can global models predict seasonality across the NWS; are some properties more predictable than others?
• What benefits can be gained from downscaling methods; does increased detail mean increased predictability?
• What are the mechanisms behind this predictability?

You will be expected to spend at least 3 months, and ideally much more, working on site at Met Office HQ, Exeter, where you will receive hands-on training and experience in running Met Office ocean forecast models. To ensure that your work is at the very cutting-edge, you will have the exciting opportunity to spend extended periods working with and exchanging knowledge with international leaders in this field, including time spent in Dr Mark Payne’s group at the National Institute of Aquatic Resources in Denmark.

As the primary marine science advisors to the UK government, Cefas will play an advisory role through this project. Insight will be provided into applications of the project outcomes, from both a science and policy direction.

Models are regularly used to predict sea surface temperature around the UK

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., Python, Matlab, IDL, R) would be advantageous.

CASE partner:

The student will spend at least 3 months of their time working at Met Office HQ in Exeter with Dr Jonathan Tinker, an expert in the climate of the Northwest European Shelf Seas region, gaining experience with seasonal forecasting.

Collaborative partner:

Dr Jennifer Graham (CEFAS) has expertise in ocean modelling for a wide variety of applications. Cefas will have an advisory role in the project, providing insight into broader applications or policy relevance of any results from this project.


You will be based within the internationally recognised College of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Exeter. You will be able to access training on data analysis of large datasets (Big Data), climate modelling, scientific writing and presenting, and much more through taught postgraduate courses at the University of Exeter and wider GW4 partnership. The Met Office will provide training in the use and applications of ocean forecast systems.

While at the Met Office, you will receive training in the use of its High-Performance Computing facilities for running ocean models and have access to a wealth of further training opportunities through the Met Office College.

You would be expected to will present your findings at both national and international conferences, such as the AGU Ocean Sciences meeting.

Background reading and references:

Tinker, J., et al.. (2018). What are the prospects for seasonal prediction of the marine environment of the NW European shelf?, Ocean Science, 14: 887-909 doi:10.5194/os-14-887-2018.
MacLachlan, C., et al. (2014). Global Seasonal forecast system version 5 (GloSea5): a high-resolution seasonal forecast system, Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 141(689): 1072-1084 doi:10.1002/qj.2396.
Payne et al. (2017). Lessons from the First Generation of Marine Ecological Forecast Products, Frontiers in Marine Science. doi:10.3389/fmars.2017.00289

Useful links:

For information relating to the research project please contact the lead Supervisor via

Prospective applicants: For information about the application process please contact the Admissions team via

Each research studentship project advertisement has an ‘Apply Now’ button linking to an application portal. Please note that applications received via other routes including a standard programme application route will not be considered for the studentship funding.


NERC GW4+ DTP studentships are open to UK and Irish nationals who, if successful in their applications, will receive a full studentship including payment of university tuition fees at the home fees rate.

A limited number of full studentships are also available to international students which are defined as EU (excluding Irish nationals), EEA, Swiss and all other non-UK nationals.

Studentships for international students will only cover fees at the UK home fees rate. However, university tuition fees for international students are higher than the UK home fees rate therefore the difference will need to be funded from a separate source which the student or project supervisor may have to find. Unfortunately, the NERC GW4+ DTP cannot fund this difference from out studentship funding Further guidance on how this will work will be issued in November.

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.


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 Friday 8 January 2021 2359 GMT .  Interviews will be held between 8th and 19th February 2021.  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:8th January 2021
Value:£15,285 per annum for 2020-21
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries