PhD Studentship: Webber_UENV18NEX - Observing Air-Sea Heat Fluxes with Autonomous Surface Vehicles

University of East Anglia - School of Environmental Sciences

Start date: October 2018

Supervisor: Dr Ben Webber

Project description:

Atmosphere-ocean coupling is driven by fluxes in heat and moisture that depend on the temperature of the sea surface and thus the properties of the ocean surface mixed layer. These fluxes drive weather systems in the atmosphere and influence the evolution of near-surface ocean conditions. In polar regions, intense surface heat loss can influence the melt rate of ice shelves and contribute to sea level rise (Webber et al., 2017). In tropical regions, air-sea interactions drive the evolution of global modes of climate variability such as El-Niño and the Madden-Julian Oscillation (Matthews et al., 2014). Autonomous platforms provide an affordable approach to measuring the processes that drive changes in the ocean surface mixed layer, with the potential to revolutionize our understanding of air-sea interaction. By combining the incoming solar radiation measurements with bulk estimates of latent and sensible heat fluxes, the dominant surface fluxes that drive air-sea interaction in the tropics can be estimated.

The student will collaborate with planned autonomous surface vehicle deployments, e.g. the Waveglider deployment funded by the Terra Maris project (November 2019-February 2020, near Java) and planned Autonaut trials, also in 2019. The Terra Maris Waveglider will be equipped with a new sensor to measure incoming solar radiation and the student will help to determine the best location to mount this instrument to minimize damage and optimize the quality of the data. The student will compare estimates of surface heat fluxes with nearby research vessels to evaluate the accuracy and reliability of the surface flux estimates from autonomous surface vehicles. Potential issues, including biofouling of subsurface instruments and salt accumulation on above-surface instruments, will be investigated by evaluating the quality of the meteorological measurements at the start and end of the mission, and by performing pre- and post-deployment calibrations.


The NEXUSS CDT provides state-of-the-art, highly experiential training in the application and development of cutting-edge Smart and Autonomous Observing Systems for the environmental sciences, alongside comprehensive personal and professional development. There will be extensive opportunities for students to expand their multi-disciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research and industrial/government/policy partners. The student will be registered and hosted in the Centre for Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences (COAS) at UEA in Norwich but will spend time at NOC working on the analysis of surface heat fluxes and comparing these against ship observations and reanalysis-based estimates. Specific training will include:

  • Autonomous surface vehicle piloting, operation, and data analysis
  • Oceanography, meteorology, climate systems, ocean dynamics, ocean physics.
  • Computing and processing of large data sets
  • Seagoing and marine data collection skills

Person Specification:

Acceptable first degree: Engineering, Geophysics, Mathematics, Oceanography or Marine Science, Physics

Funding notes:

Successful candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC/EPSRC 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. 

For further information, please visit

Share this PhD
  Share by Email   Print this job   More sharing options
We value your feedback on the quality of our adverts. If you have a comment to make about the overall quality of this advert, or its categorisation then please send us your feedback
Advert information

Type / Role:



South East England