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PhD Studentship: Atmospheric Heat Transport Across a Range of Planetary Climates

University of Exeter - Department of Mathematics and Statistics - Faculty of Environment, Science and Economy

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Exeter
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: £18,622 per year
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 8th December 2023
Closes: 23rd January 2024
Reference: 5035

Academic Supervisors:

Dr Stephen I. Thomson, University of Exeter

Dr William Seviour, University of Exeter

Dr Geoffrey K. Vallis, University of Exeter

Project Description:

Planetary atmospheres exhibit a wide range of behaviours, from the multiple jet streams of Jupiter to the complex interplay of atmosphere, ocean and land on Earth. One of the primary roles played by a planet’s atmosphere is to redistribute the energy it receives from the planet’s host star, as the amount of stellar radiation absorbed can vary in space and time. The Earth’s atmosphere, for example, transports a substantial amount of the energy received from the sun in low latitudes to higher latitudes, thereby influencing the equator-to-pole temperature gradient. On tidally-locked exoplanets with substantial atmospheres, the atmosphere instead redistributes heat from the permanent day-side to the permanent night-side. Understanding atmospheric heat transport is therefore an area of active research interest. There are a great many factors that impact an atmosphere’s ability to transport heat, including the role of atmospheric moisture, the role played by atmospheric eddies and the mean flow, as well as other complicating factors such as the interaction with topography.

In this project we aim to increase our understanding of the processes affecting atmospheric heat transport across a variety of different planetary settings, building on related studies of a planet’s dependence on its parameters, including Kaspi & Showman 2015 (iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/0004-637X/804/1/60/meta) and Komacek & Abbot 2019 (iopscience.iop.org/article/10.3847/1538-4357/aafb33). An enhanced understanding of atmospheric heat transport will feed into a variety of scientific areas of interest, including the study of exoplanet atmospheres, as well as better understanding climates of Earth’s past and possible futures. If the applicant’s own interests lie more in Earth’s climates, rather than those of other planets, then the project could be adapted as such, and applicants in this position are encouraged to apply.

The project will make heavy use of numerical simulations of planetary atmospheres, which we will create using the Isca climate-modelling framework, developed at Exeter (github.com/ExeClim/Isca), following the approach taken by Thomson & Vallis 2019 (rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/qj.3582), where complicating factors are added to the model gradually in order to increase our understanding. The results of these model simulations will then be compared with analytical models of atmospheric heat transport, where they exist, as well as with observations of planets outside and inside our solar system. The final aim for the project will be to construct a statistical emulator or Machine-learning tool to predict the temperature distribution of a particular planet based on a limited knowledge of its parameters. Such a tool could then be used by exoplanet observers to help them interpret observations of planets, and to increase our overall understanding of atmospheric heat transport.

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.

Entry requirements:

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate subject such as Mathematics, Physics, Meteorology, Oceanography or Computer Science. Knowledge of scientific programming languages (e.g. Python, R, Julia) would be advantageous, but is not essential.  

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