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Applications are now open for PhD studentships starting in October 2018. 

Please read the recruitment introduction for more information about eligibility, how to apply, and possibilities for further funding.

The deadline for applications is 8 January 2018.

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MATTHEWS_UENV18EE - Understanding how waves in the tropical atmosphere trigger extreme weather

Project description

Figure 1. Maps showing the eastward progression of rainfall (red colours) across Indonesia associated with the passage of a convectively coupled equatorial Kelvin wave.

Selected other project supervisors:
Dr Manoj Joshi (UEA)
Dr Ben Webber (UEA)
Dr Darek Baranowski (University of Warsaw)

Scientific background
Extreme weather in the tropics, particularly in the form of heavy rainfall and strong winds, can affect the livelihoods of the local population through flooding, landslides and impacts on agriculture and local infrastructure.  Extreme weather in the tropics is controlled to a large part by waves in the tropical atmosphere (figure 1).  These waves are the response of the tropical atmosphere to fluctuations in the large-scale tropical circulation and rainfall patterns; effectively the natural or normal modes of the tropical atmosphere, rather like standing waves or harmonics are the normal modes of a guitar string.  So-called “convectively-coupled equatorial waves” are one example that combine tropical atmospheric waves with tropical atmospheric convection (i.e. thunderstorms).  These tropical waves are predictable up to a few days ahead, and are one of the few sources of predictability in the tropical atmosphere.  

Although the broad features of these tropical waves are known, their impact on extreme weather is not; this represents a major gap in our understanding of tropical weather.

Research methodology
You will determine the effect of tropical waves on extreme weather in the tropics.  Initially, this will involve analysis of state-of-the-art satellite data sets that measure rainfall every 3 hours across the whole tropics.  You will then conduct sets of experiments with an atmospheric climate model to determine what factors generate and influence these tropical waves.

Training and research environment
You will join an active research group at UEA in tropical meteorology and climate.  You will be trained in meteorological and climate theory, and in the theoretical and practical aspects of meteorological analysis of very large data sets, and computer modelling of weather and climate.  You will have the opportunity to present your work at national and international conferences.  There may also be an opportunity to take part in the international Equatorial Line Observations field campaign in Sumatra and Borneo in 2018/19, which is focussed on understanding the mechanisms of tropical waves.

Person specification
We seek an enthusiastic, pro-active student with strong scientific interests and self-motivation.  You will have a degree in physics, mathematics, meteorology, oceanography or environmental science with good numerical ability.

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 by EnvEast on 12/13 February 2018.

Selected candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - in 2017/18, the stipend is £14,553. Ordinarily, EnvEast studentships are for 3.5 years, although longer awards may be made to applicants from quantitative disciplines who have limited experience in the environmental sciences, to allow them to take appropriate advanced-level courses in the subject area.

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 tuition 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.

This PhD studentship is expected to begin in September/October 2018. Both full-time and part-time study are possible (those planning to study part-time may wish to discuss this with the supervisor before applying).


  1. Baranowski DB, Flatau MK, Flatau PJ, Matthews AJ, 2016: Impact of atmospheric convectively-coupled Kelvin waves on upper ocean variability. J. Geophys. Res., 121, 2045-2059. (
  2. Joshi M, Stringer M, van der Wiel K, O'Callaghan A, Blackburn M, Fueglistaler S, 2014: IGCM4: A fast, parallel and flexible intermediate climate model. Geosci. Model Develop. Disc., 7, 5517-5545. (
  3. Matthews AJ, Pickup G, Peatman SC, Clews P, Martin J, 2013: The effect of the Madden-Julian Oscillation on station rainfall and river level in the Fly River system, Papua New Guinea. J. Geophys. Res., 118, 10926-10935. (
  4. Wheeler M, Weickmann KM, 2001: Real-time monitoring and prediction of modes of coherent synoptic to intraseasonal tropical variability. Mon. Weath. Rev., 129, 2677-2694. (;2)
  5. Yang GY, Hoskins BJ, Slingo JM, 2007: Convectively coupled equatorial waves. Part I: Horizontal and vertical structures. J. Atmos. Sci., 64, 3406-3423. (