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The maritime continent: Breaking the tropical barrier to global weather and climate prediction (MATTHEWS_UENV17EE)

Project description

Scientific background

Global weather and climate patterns are strongly controlled from the tropics. For example, the extreme wet, mild winter in the UK of 2013/14 has been linked to weather activity in the “tropical warm pool”, the region of very warm ocean that extends from the Indian Ocean eastwards into the western Pacific. The main weather system responsible for these effects is the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO; At the heart of the warm pool lies the maritime continent, a complex archipelago of large and small islands that includes the countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Papua New Guinea. These islands act as a physical barrier to weather systems in the region. For example, some MJO weather systems succeed in crossing the maritime continent, while others do not. The effects on subsequent global weather development can be very different between these two cases.

Research methodology

You will determine the atmospheric and oceanic processes that control the maritime continent barrier in climate and weather. This will be achieved by analysis of state-of-the-art high-resolution global observational data sets, and experiments with global climate models.

Training and research environment

You will join an active research group at UEA in tropical meteorology, oceanography and climate, and will collaborate with the tropical and global meteorology group at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (Climate) at University of Reading. You will be trained in meteorological, oceanographical and climate theory, and in the theoretical and practical aspects of climate analysis of very large data sets (substantial in-house training, and a python Climate Data Analysis Tools (CDAT) training workshop), and computer modelling of weather and climate (MetUM training workshop). You will have the opportunity to present your work at an international conference.

Person specification

We seek an enthusiastic, pro-active student with strong scientific interests and self-motivation. You will have at least a 2.1 honours degree in physics, mathematics, meteorology, oceanography or environmental science with good numerical ability. Experience of a programming language such as python or matlab will be advantageous. This project will suit an applicant intending to start a scientific career in meteorology, oceanography or climate science.


This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with twenty other research partners.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 14/15 February 2017.

Successful candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship. In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award. In 2016/17 the stipend was £14,296.

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(i) Peatman SC, Matthews AJ, Stevens DP, 2014: Propagation of the Madden-Julian Oscillation through the Maritime Continent and scale interaction with the diurnal cycle of precipitation. Quart. J. Roy. Meteorol. Soc., 140, 814-825.

(ii) Matthews AJ, 2008: Primary and successive events in the Madden-Julian Oscillation. Quart. J. Roy. Meteorol. Soc., 134, 439-453.

(iii) Klingaman NP, Woolnough SJ, 2014: The role of air-sea coupling in the simulation of the Madden-Julian oscillation in the Hadley Centre model. Quart. J. Roy. Meteorol. Soc., 140, 2272-2286.

(iv) Birch CE, Webster S, Peatman SC, Parker DJ, Matthews AJ, Li Y, Hassim ME, 2016: Scale interactions between the MJO and the western Maritime Continent. J. Climate, 29, 2471-2492.

(v) Baranowski DB, Flatau MK, Flatau PJ, Matthews AJ, 2016: Phase locking between atmospheric convectively coupled equatorial Kelvin waves and the diurnal cycle of precipitation over the Maritime Continent. Geophys. Res. Lett., published online, doi: 10.1002/2016GL069602.

  • Start date October 2017
  • Programme PhD
  • Mode of Study full time
  • Studentship Length 3.5 years
Entry requirements
  • Acceptable First Degree physics, mathematics, meteorology, oceanography or environmental science with good numerical ability
  • Minimum Entry Standard 2:1 Honours degree