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Award details

Arctic 2050: better forecasts of near-future Arctic climate change, NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship for 2023 Entry, PhD in Mathematics and Statistics. Ref: 4607

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Dr Mark England 

Location: Stretham Campus, University of Exeter, Devon

Additional Supervisors

Professor James Screen

Location: Stretham Campus, University of Exeter, Devon

Dr Thomas Bracegirdle

Location: British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK

Dr Ed Blockley

Location: Met Office Hadley Centre, Exeter, Devon.

About the Partnership

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 eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £17,668 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

Figure 1: Arctic sea ice age for March 1985 (left) and March 2021 (right) from NOAA Figure 2: Timeseries of September Arctic Sea Ice Area for CMIP6 projections, image from IPCC AR6 WG1 Summary for Policymakers.

 Project Background

Arctic climate has changed profoundly over the last four decades: the Arctic has warmed four times faster than the global average (Rantanen et al 2022); the area covered by sea ice has dramatically shrunk; and the proportion of ice surviving more than one year is reduced (Fig 1). These trends are projected by state-of-the-art climate models to continue over the coming decades. However, the uncertainties associated with these projections are very large. CMIP6 models suggest that the Arctic warming experienced over the next 30 years could span the range of 1°C to 6°C.

These uncertainties arise from imperfect models, the lack of perfect knowledge about future emissions, and internal climate variability. The overarching aim of Arctic 2050 is to systematically reduce these uncertainties, which would enable regional stakeholders and Arctic communities to develop robust plans for dealing with near-term climate change. Other research questions include: (i) how much of near-term Arctic climate change is unavoidable? (ii) relatedly, is the occurrence of an ice-free Arctic summer (Fig 2) by mid-century inevitable as has been recently suggested (SIMIP 2020)? (iii) which observed features of the climate system give us predictability for the coming decades in the Arctic? and (iv) what is the best way to convey results to policymakers and regional stakeholders? 

Project Aims and Methods

To provide more precise near-term projections of Arctic climate change, the student will analyse comprehensive climate model output from the CMIP6 archive as well as leveraging the new generation of large ensembles (Deser et al 2020). Throughout the project, the student will use novel approaches to constrain the climate projections, including advanced statistical techniques and a complementary process-based emergent constraint framework (Hall et al 2019), as well as applying data visualisation strategies and working extensively with state-of-the-art climate model data. One approach for conveying results to policymakers and stakeholders will involve constructing climate storylines (Shepherd et al 2018).

This project is designed to be connected with climate impacts and have real world policy implications. With support from the supervisors, the student will be encouraged to shape the focus of research to suit their own interests. The student will be primarily based at the University of Exeter, a member of the prestigious Russell Group and a centre for world-leading climate science. There will be opportunities to spend time at the British Antarctic Survey and Met Office, and to engage with non-academic partners.  

Candidate requirements

The candidate must have achieved, or be expected to achieve, a first class or 2:1 degree in Meteorology, Climate Science, 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, R, NCL) would be advantageous, but is not essential.

Project partners 

This project is in collaboration with the Met Office, a globally recognised centre for climate modelling and prediction located nearby in Exeter, and the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge. The student will benefit from regular visits to these institutions, gain exposure to non-University research environments and have access to a wide range of student training courses and networking/social events.


Training will include the use of high-performance computing resources, data analysis and visualisation, as well as scientific writing and presentation. The student will be encouraged to participate in external training courses and international conferences, for which there is a generous travel and training budget. The student will benefit from working alongside internationally recognised climate scientists at the University of Exeter, the British Antarctic Survey, and the Met Office.

Background reading and references

Deser et al 2020; Hall et al 2019; Rantanen et al 2022; Shepherd et al 2018; SIMIP 2020; Stroeve et al 2012;


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 2023 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.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

The University of Exeter is committed to promoting and supporting equality, diversity, and inclusion within our working environments and is at the heart of all our activities.  With over 27,000 students and 6,400 staff from 180 different countries we offer a diverse and engaging environment where our diversity is celebrated and valued as a major strength. 

We actively encourage applicants with varied experiences and backgrounds and from all sections of the community regardless of age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, religion, or disability status.  We are committed to creating an inclusive culture where all members of our community are supported to thrive.
Whilst all applicants will be judged on merit alone, we particularly welcome applications from groups currently underrepresented within our postgraduate research student community.  Reasonable adjustments are available for interviews and workspaces.

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 2359 hours GMT Monday 9 January 2023. Interviews will be held between 22 February and 8 March 2023.  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:9th January 2023
Value:£17,668 per annum for 2022-23
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries