PhD Studentship: Variability in Antarctic Waters: Searching for Fingerprints of Winter-time Processes in the Southern Ocean (HEYWOOD_UENV18EE)

University of East Anglia - School of Environmental Sciences

Start Date: October 2018

No. of positions available: 1

Supervisor: Professor Karen Heywood

Project description: Scientific background
Climate models are important to help us plan for future change. These models are still being improved; this applies particularly to ocean processes that are often poorly represented. Here we focus on a little-studied water mass, Winter Water, the remnant of the previous winter’s mixed layer. In the Southern Ocean, Winter Water is easily identifiable as a temperature-minimum layer at a few hundred metres depth, capped in summer by less dense water warmed by solar heating and freshened by sea ice melt. Winter Water is important because it contains a “fingerprint” of previous winters’ interactions between ocean and atmosphere. This joint project with the Met Office will assess Winter Water and its variability in climate models and observations.

Research methodology
You will analyse the Met Office’s family of models (known as NEMO) at different resolutions and with different physics. Winter Water layer depth, thickness, temperature and salinity, as well as mixed layer depth defined by different density thresholds, will be calculated from model output and from newly-available year-round observations of temperature and salinity. You will assess any correlation between summertime and wintertime Winter Water properties, and use the models to explore physical mechanisms behind any links.

The project will test these hypotheses:

  • Winter Water layer depth is a better metric to assess model skill than mixed layer depth;
  • Winter Water properties inform about the previous winter’s ocean-atmosphere exchange;
  • Spatial variations in Winter Water properties inform about regional ocean dynamics and sea ice variability.

You will be trained in physical oceanography, climate modelling, science communication, data analysis and programming in Matlab and/or Python. You will learn oceanographic observational techniques through participation in a research cruise, and joining the UEA glider science group ( using profiling ocean gliders to observe Winter Water close to Antarctica. You will work closely with the Met Office.

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with over twenty other research partners. Undertaking a PhD with the EnvEast DTP will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 12/13 February 2018.

For further information, please visit

Person specification: You will have a physical science degree (e.g. physics, natural sciences, environmental sciences, oceanography, meteorology, geophysics, mathematics). Experience of a programming language such as Matlab or Python is helpful.

EnvEast welcomes applicants from quantitative disciplines who may have limited background in environmental sciences. Excellent candidates will be considered for an award of an additional 3-month stipend to take appropriate advanced-level courses in the subject area.

Funding notes: Successful candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - in 2017/18, the stipend is £14,553. In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a stipend. For non-UK EU-resident applicants NERC funding can be used to cover fees, RTSG and training costs, but not any part of the stipend. Individual institutes may, however, elect to provide a stipend from their own resources.

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