Two DPhil projects in Physical Climate, with CASE funding from the Met Office: Available to start October 2017

Two DPhil projects in Physical Climate, with CASE funding from the Met Office: Available to start October 2017

Applications are now open for graduate study on two NERC Industrial CASE projects in physical climate science.  Each project:

  • provides extra stipend and research expenses on top of the normal NERC allowance.
  • offers the opportunity to work with leading scientists at the Met Office on applied climate science questions.
  • requires a strong first degree in a quantitative subject (such as Physics, Applied Mathematics, Earth Sciences, Engineering, Physical Oceanography, etc.), including strong skills in physical and mathematical modelling, an enthusiasm for computational work and a desire to learn about the role that the ocean plays in climate variability and change.
  • will be integrated into the Oxford DTP in Environmental Research (, which provides an outstanding training environment for a cohort of ~30 students right across the entire NERC remit.  This training programme will be supplemented by specialist courses in scientific computing and in running and analyzing coupled climate models at the Met Office.
  1.  Meridional overturning circulation and ocean heat uptake – Supervised by Helen Johnson (Earth Sciences, Oxford), David Marshall (AOPP, Oxford) and Mike Bell (Met Office)

Understanding the ocean’s response to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere is crucial for predicting regional and global climate on long timescales. The recent hiatus and then surge in global warming has highlighted that improved understanding of what controls variations in ocean heat uptake is a high scientific priority. The ocean’s meridional overturning circulations (MOCs) can communicate changes in temperature at the surface down into the deep ocean. These circulations therefore influence the rate and location at which heat is taken up by the oceans, how it is re-distributed vertically, and the long-term rise in sea-level due to thermal expansion. They also transport sufficient heat into the North Atlantic to reduce the severity of winters in north-west Europe. A major challenge for climate science is to develop a robust understanding of their dynamics and predict their fluctuations on time-scales of decades to centuries.

This project will develop and employ novel diagnostics that can be used to probe the behaviour of MOCs and ocean heat uptake under future (and past) forcing scenarios in the current generation of Met Office coupled climate models. The student will use existing simple conceptual and numerical models of the global MOC to better understand what controls variability in ocean stratification, heat content and circulation. For example, they will assess the extent to which wind forcing sets the spatial distribution of heat uptake, determining diagnostic relationships between the temperature field, surface winds and heat fluxes. They will then apply these diagnostics in climate change simulations to provide insight on the attribution of past change in ocean heat uptake along with a robust understanding of predicted future change.

The diagnostic framework developed in this project will contribute directly to the interpretation of Met Office climate forecasts, the assessment of model performance, and the development and design of future predictive systems.

See the Oxford Earth Sciences graduate admissions page ( or contact Helen Johnson ( for more information. To be considered for this project apply via the Oxford graduate admissions page ( before 12 noon on Friday 20 January, selecting as course a DPhil in Earth Sciences.

  1.  Impact of fjord circulation on the ocean forcing of melting ice sheets – Supervised by Andrew Wells (AOPP, Oxford), Helen Johnson (Earth Sciences, Oxford) and Jeff Ridley (Met Office)

Melting of the Greenland ice sheet is a key contributor to sea level rise. It also increases freshwater input to the North Atlantic with the potential to alter ocean circulation and significantly influence the climate in north-west Europe. The impact of ocean warming on melting at the glacial margin represents a key uncertainty in our understanding of the Greenland ice mass balance, and how the ice sheet will evolve into the future. Outlet glaciers melt into the ocean in a diverse array of narrow fjords, on scales too small to be resolved in global ocean models. Ocean circulation within a fjord controls the transport of heat and freshwater between the far-field ocean and the ice sheet, and thus the potential for marine melting. However, we lack a complete understanding of the dominant physical mechanisms controlling the circulation in different fjords.

The goal of this project is to develop a fluid-mechanical theory of the coupling of ocean circulation and ice melting in Greenland fjords, and to implement this as a simplified description of fjord processes in a global ocean model. To underpin the theoretical development, the student will run an ensemble of numerical simulations of fluid flow in an idealised fjord, to explore the sensitivity of the circulation to changing fjord geometry, far-field ocean conditions, and varying environmental forcing. This will provide the key physical insight necessary to understand the major circulation regimes, and provide a physically-based prediction of the heat fluxes, ice melt rates, and freshwater export to the ocean. We will use the resulting scaling laws to provide a simple parameterisation of ice melting in fjords, and implement this in the Met Office global ocean model as a tool for future climate projections. Hence this project provides an exciting opportunity to take a project from a fundamental scientific question through to a practical implementation in state-of-the-art ocean and climate models.

See the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics graduate admissions page ( or contact Andrew Wells ( for more information. To be considered for this project apply via the Oxford graduate admissions page ( before 12 noon on Friday 20 January, selecting as course a DPhil in Environmental Research (NERC DTP).  Please provide a clear note in the statement of purpose form about your interest in being considered for this NERC CASE project in addition to any other topics of interest amongst the broader NERC DTP, and list Andrew Wells & Helen Johnson amongst your proposed supervisors on the application form.

Candidates are welcome (indeed, encouraged!) to apply for both the above projects, as well as directly to the NERC Doctoral Training Programme in Environmental Research (, if they are interested in all three.  Note that the deadline for all three is 12 noon on 20 January, but that the course you must select on the application form in each case differs.

To be eligible for a full NERC studentship, you must usually have at least a 2:1 Bachelors degree (or international equivalent) in a relevant subject and have lived in the UK for the previous three years, with settled status. See for further information about eligibility.