College funded PhD Studentship in Mathematics: Attribution of climate change to anthropogenic and natural causes Ref: 2562

About the award

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

Primary Supervisor: Professor Peter Stott (University of Exeter)

Secondary Supervisors: Dr Nikolaos Christidis (Met Office), Professor David Stephenson (University of Exeter)

Project Description:

The detection and attribution of climate change to human-induced and natural causes is a scientific endeavour with major policy implications. While there is now a wealth of evidence that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are the main cause of global warming over the last century there remain substantial uncertainties about the extent to which past climate changes at regional scales are driven by anthropogenic and natural factors. Such information is of vital relevance for understanding how best to mitigate and adapt to future climate change. In particular, societies are increasingly threatened by a rise in extreme weather events and an improved understanding of how such events are changing can help affected communities become more resilient to such events. The Met Office is developing an operational attribution system to evaluate the changing risk of extreme weather events and it is important that this new system is built on the latest scientific understanding and analytical techniques. This new research will feed into the development of this operational system.

Project strategy

Detection and attribution analyses crucially rely on climate models which are needed to represent the counter-factual case of what would have happened had there been no human-induced climate change. This provides a particular challenge in evaluating climate model fidelity since of course such a counterfactual reality did not transpire in reality. Innovative strategies are therefore required bringing together observational, statistical and physical understanding in order to improve estimates of attributable changes in climate and weather extremes.

This project will develop new techniques for weighting climate models according to their performance and will use a model based setting to test out the efficacy of such techniques. By designating model simulations as possible realisations of observational reality – in controlled situations where we know how those pseudo observations have been made up – it becomes possible to test out the reliability of new techniques in a variety of plausible scenarios. Such a strategy will be used to enhance the confidence with which attribution results can be treated, potentially transforming many attribution results into much more observationally informed quantities.


The main objectives of the project are:

  • To develop new techniques for incorporating modelling uncertainty in detection and attribution results
  • To explore their robustness in model settings including the use of simple conceptual models
  • To apply such techniques in analyses used in operational contexts such as in the operational attribution system being developed at the Met Office and for analyses to inform future IPCC reports

The student will be supervised by Peter Stott and co-supervised by Nikos Christidis of the Met Office and David Stephenson of the University of Exeter. The project will involve close collaboration with the detection and attribution research group at the Met Office. The post-holder will also have the opportunity to be part of the International Detection and Attribution Group (IDAG), an informal grouping of international specialists who meet at an annual workshop to discuss their latest research. 

Contact for informal enquiries: 

For more information about the project and informal enquiries, please contact the primary supervisor, Professor Peter Stott.

Application criteria:

You should have or expect to achieve at least a 2:1 Honours degree, or equivalent, in Mathematics, Statistics, Physics, Natural Sciences or other numerate discipline.

If English is not your first language you will need to meet the English language requirements and provide proof of proficiency. Click here for more information and a list of acceptable alternative tests.


Application deadline:5th June 2017
Number of awards:1
Value:3.5 year studentship including UK/EU/International tuition fees plus a stipend equivalent to the RCUK rate (£14,553 for 2017/18)
Duration of award:per year
Contact: Postgraduate Research

How to apply

To apply, complete the online form. You will be asked to submit some personal details and upload a full CV, covering letter and details of two academic referees. Your covering letter should outline your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake this project. 

You may also be asked to upload verified transcripts of your most academic qualification.

Interviews will be held at Streatham Campus week commencing 19th June 2017.

Please quote reference 2562 on your application and in any correspondence about this studentship.