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Award details

High impact weather events from fronts – weather forecasts and future projections. NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship for 2022 Entry, PhD in Mathematics Ref: 4254

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Dr Jennifer Catto, University of Exeter, Department of Mathematics

Additional Supervisors

Dr Duncan Ackerley, Met Office

Dr Helen Titley, Met Office

Location: Streatham Campus 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 £15,609 p.a. for 2022/23) 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

Project details

Flooding in the UK

Project Background:

Extreme rainfall events that cause flooding are often caused by atmospheric fronts (Catto and Pfahl 2013). For example, the flooding associated with Storm Desmond in December 2015, which, along with the subsequent storm Eva, caused economic losses estimated between £1.3 and £5.8 billion, was from the rain that fell along the storm’s front (Matthews et al 2018). Predicting the location of fronts and their intense rainfall can present a challenge in weather forecasting, resulting in difficulties giving accurate weather warnings. 

Understanding the characteristics of high impact fronts and their dynamical precursors in observations can help to improve these predictions and future projections. In this project, the goal will be to develop greater understanding of high impact fronts, to then apply this understanding to evaluate both ensemble weather forecasts and climate projections of extreme precipitation events associated with fronts.  

Project Aims and Methods:

The aims of this project will be to understand the lifecycle and dynamical and thermodynamic characteristics of fronts that contribute to extreme precipitation events in observations. Further, the methods developed will be applied to the Unified Model (UM) Climate Model, and the Numerical Weather Prediction model (specifically the Met Office Global and Regional Ensemble Prediction System – MOGREPS) in order to understand how well the models can represent these features. 

Errors in frontal structure identified in the climate model may be able to provide insight into the causes of errors in the Met Office’s weather forecasts. We will investigate whether the systems that are simulated poorly in the climate model responsible for causing the largest uncertainty in the ensemble forecasts? Answering this may directly contribute to improving the representation of fronts in the models, and therefore the Met Office’s weather and climate forecasts, as well as improving their weather warnings.

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 (£17k).

Candidate 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, in Mathematics, Physics, Meteorology, Statistics, Environmental Science or another related field.  Knowledge of scientific programming languages (e.g., Matlab, Python, IDL, R) would be advantageous.

Project Partners:

This project is supported by a CASE partnership with the Met Office with Dr Duncan Ackerley as the main Met Office supervisor. Links with the Met Office will ensure access to data and expertise from their seamless modelling capability across prediction time scales. Visits to the Met Office will allow the candidate to learn their computer systems, undertake training on key software tools such as Python, and communicate results to the key stakeholders such as model developers and operational forecasters. 


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), weather and 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. The candidate will be expected to take part in relevant national and international conferences and workshops. 

Background reading and references:

Catto J L and S Pfahl 2013, The importance of fronts for precipitation extremes, J. Geophys. Res. Atmos., 118, 10791-10801,; T Matthews et al 2018, Super-storm Desmond: a process-based assessment, Environ. Res. Lett. 13 014024,

Useful Links:

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

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

Each 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.  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 2022 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, please see the entry requirements for details.
  • Two references

Reference information
You will be asked to submit two references as part of the application process.  If you are not able to upload  your reference documents with your application please ensure you provide details of your referees.  If you provide contact details of referees only, 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 Friday 10 January 2022. Interviews will be held between 28 February and 4 March 2022.  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:10th January 2022
Value:£15,609 per annum for 2022-23
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries