Skip to main content

Funding and scholarships for students

Award details

Emergent constraints on Earthโ€™s future climate, NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship for 2022 Entry, PhD in Mathematics Ref: 4262

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Dr Mark Williamson, Climate Dynamics, CEMPS, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors

Dr Chris Huntingford, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford,

Dr Chris Jones, Hadley Centre, Met Office, Exeter

Prof Peter Cox, Climate Dynamics, CEMPS, University of Exeter

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 £15,609 p.a. for 2021/22) 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

Project Background

The general circulation models (GCMs) used to make projections of future climate change are vitally important to inform climate mitigation and adaptation strategies, but are also invaluable tools for testing hypotheses about the functioning of the Earth System. Climate modelling centres around the world have devoted increasing effort to improving GCMs since the first IPCC report in 1990. As a result, they now provide a more complete representation of the myriad of interactions and feedbacks that determine how the climate will change in response to human and natural forcing factors. Unfortunately, the range of model projections has not significantly reduced despite this. It is critically important to reduce projection uncertainty so as to provide better information to inform national and global climate policy action (Cox et al., 2018, Nijsse et al., 2020). 

Project Aims and Methods

A promising method for reducing this uncertainty, the emergent constraint approach, combines empirical relationships found in model ensembles with observations to constrain an unknown sensitivity. The basic idea is to identify an element of the observable climate (๐‘‹) that varies significantly across the model ensemble, and which exhibits a statistically significant relationship, ๐‘“, with variations in some important variable (๐‘Œ) describing the simulated future climate. 

Unfortunately, the ๐‘“ relationships are often little more than statistical fishing trips and may therefore occur by chance rather than from a deeper physical mechanism. In this project we will use a cross fertilization of ideas to guard against these chance correlations by putting model ensemble relationships on a sound, testable physical foundation thus providing much needed confidence in the constraints and insight into the most important physical processes involved. Depending on the skills and interests of the student, ideas from statistical thermodynamics, such as the fluctuation-dissipation theorem and maximum entropy production principle and from the theory of tipping point precursors, will be explored as sound theoretical bases for these model ensemble relationships.

Candidate requirements

We seek an enthusiastic student with broad interests in climate dynamics and climate change. A first degree in physics, maths, computer science, engineering or other quantitative subject is needed. The ideal candidate may have some experience, and/or an interest in both computational data analysis and modelling and analytical paper-and-pencil techniques. We value a diverse research environment, and you will join a vibrant team currently consisting of 3 other PhD students and 4 postdoctoral researchers.

Project partners

Dr Chris Huntingford at CEH Wallingford, has substantial expertise in emergent constraints and all areas of climate change science. The CASE partner, Dr Chris Jones, is also an expert in a number of areas of climate change science, particularly climate carbon feedbacks. The student will have opportunities to spend significant time at both CEH Wallingford and at the Met Office’s world leading Hadley Centre. Both Chris Huntingford and Chris Jones are recognised as ISI Highly Cited Researchers.


The project will require coding and data analysis on large climate model and observational datasets. There will also be the opportunity to run and configure idealized and state-of-the-art climate models. Training in all the software and techniques needed to conduct this research will be provided. You will be encouraged to attend local and international workshops and conferences such as the European and American Geophysical Union meetings.

Background reading and references

P. M. Cox, C. Huntingford and M. S. Williamson, Nature 553, 319-319 (2018).

F. J. M. M. Nijsse, P. M. Cox and M. S. Williamson, Earth Syst. Dynam. 11 (3), 737-750 (2020).

M. S. Williamson, C. W. Thackeray, P. M. Cox, A. Hall, C. Huntingford and F. J. M. M. Nijsse, Reviews of Modern Physics 93 (2), 025004 (2021).

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


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:ยฃ15,609 per annum for 2021-2022
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries