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Award details

University of Exeter funding: NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship

Far-flung influences on midlatitude climate and weather extremes: The stratospheric pathway. Mathematics PhD Studentship (NERC GW4+ DTP funded) Ref: 4010

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Dr William Seviour, University of Exeter, Mathematics

Additional Supervisors

Prof James Screen, University of Exeter, Mathematics

Dr Stephen Thomson, University of Exeter, Mathematics

Dr Dann Mitchell, University of Bristol, School of Geographical Sciences

Prof Adam Scaife, Met Office Hadley Centre

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

Teleconnections are processes which link variations in weather and climate between different parts of the globe, often many thousands of kilometres apart. They are important for making reliable predictions of weather and climate at the regional scale, from weeks to decades ahead, particularly in the midlatitudes where billions of people live. Recently there has been much speculation that the stratosphere may play a significant role in these teleconnections, despite its thin air and high altitude. More specifically, climate variability in both the tropics and the Arctic may influence the stratospheric polar vortex, a region of intense winds at above 10 km in altitude, encircling the winter pole. In extreme cases, this vortex may temporarily break down in dramatic events known as sudden stratospheric warmings, with impacts propagating downwards to the Earth’s surface (see this explainer video: There is still much to be understood about the mechanisms underlying this potential ‘stratospheric pathway’. Open research questions include, but are not limited to, how tropical and polar influences interact, how these remote influences affect the 3D structure of the stratospheric polar vortex (as illustrated above), how stratospheric signals are communicated down to the surface, and how they impact the risk of extreme weather. This project will use cutting-edge computational and data analysis tools to tackle these important problems.


                                               3D visualisation of the stratospheric polar vortex edge, from Serra et al. 2017.

Schematic of mechanisms for stratosphere-troposphere coupling, from Kidston et al. 2015.

Project Aims and Methods

The student will have the opportunity to join a major new collaboration on Arctic teleconnections which also includes scientists at the Universities of Bristol, Oxford, Reading, Bangor, Southampton, and the National Oceanography Centre. This will give them the opportunity to build a wider network of collaborators, and to discuss and present results at regular project meetings. To make progress in this significant research area, the student will use the Isca climate modelling framework, recently developed within our group ( Isca is a relatively simple and uniquely flexible model that can be used for simulating the atmosphere at varying levels of complexity and is therefore ideal for probing fundamental mechanisms. Knowledge gained from these experiments will be applied to the analysis of observed climate records, state-of-the-art ‘large ensemble’ climate projections, as well as seasonal-to-decadal predictions from collaborators at the UK Met Office. With support from the supervisors, the candidate will be encouraged to shape the focus of research to suit their interests. 

Candidate requirements

This project would suit candidates with a background in Mathematics, Physics, Meteorology, Oceanography, Computer Science, or a related field. Knowledge of scientific programming languages (e.g., Python, Matlab, R) and experience with independent research would be advantageous, but is not essential.

Collaborative partner

Co-supervisor Prof Scaife leads the Met Office Long Range Forecast section and will facilitate regular visits and collaboration, enabling the student to gain experience working in a government research environment.


Training will include the use of high-performance computing resources, scientific software development, data analysis and visualisation, as well as scientific writing and presentation. The student will be encouraged to participate in external training courses such (e.g. the Cambridge Fluid Dynamics Summer School), for which there is a generous travel and training budget (£15k). 

Background reading and references

Kidston et al. 2015: 

Scaife et al. 2016: 

Screen et al. 2018,

Seviour 2017, GRL 

Thomson et al. 2018:

Zhang et al. 2018:


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.  For further details please see the NERC GW4+ website.

Those not meeting the nationality and residency requirements to be treated as a ‘home’ student may apply for a limited number of full studentships for international students. Although international students are usually charged a higher tuition fee rate than ‘home’ students, those international students offered a NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership full studentship starting in 2021 will only be charged the ‘home’ tuition fee rate (which will be covered by the studentship). International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD. More information on this is available from the universities you are applying to (contact details are provided in the project description that you are interested in

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