Projects for Students

We have submitted the following MPhys project proposals to the Department of Physics (April 2014):

Atmospheric dynamical factors underlying the UK floods of January/February 2014

The winter of 2013/2014 experienced exceptionally heavy rainfall in southern England, with Oxford experiencing its wettest winter since the Radcliffe Observatory record began in 1767. Working with Environment Guardian, Oxford has conducted a unique large-ensemble public distributed computing experiment to examine the possible role of human influence on climate in these events: This experiment has generated tens of thousands of simulations of "possible weather" in two ensembles, one representing present-day conditions, and the other representing a range of possibilities for the "world that might have been" had human-induced climate change not occurred. Thus far, these ensembles have only been explored for changes in occurrence-frequency of heavy UK rainfall events, but also contain a wealth of information on the dynamical factors (atmospheric circulation patterns, sea surface temperatures, etc) that potentially played a major role in these floods. This student project will explore the circulation patterns associated with heavy rainfall events in these ensembles, and assess to what degree the atmospheric model used is capable of simulating these circulation anomalies realistically. We would expect this student to take the C5 option.

Supervisors: Antje Weisheimer (AOPP, reporting), Friederike Otto (OUCE) and Nathalie Schaller (OUCE and AOPP)

How does better representation of uncertainty in land surface parameters improve forecasting of the 2003 European summer heat wave?

The land surface has an important role in the climate system, primarily through evaporation and its effect on latent and sensible heat fluxes. This land-atmosphere coupling was particularly strong in 2003 over Europe, when negative spring soil moisture anomalies contributed to the exceptional summer heat wave.

The potential to anticipate heat waves is made possible by climate models run in seasonal forecasting mode. Here the initialization of slowly varying components of the climate system enables predictability of average conditions, months ahead. Uncertainty in the land surface component of these models is not well represented, and ongoing work at Oxford and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) is addressing this issue.

Recent hindcasts experiments indicate by perturbing two key land surface parameters in the ECMWF’s state-of-the-art seasonal climate model we improve the simulation the 2003 European summer heat wave. However the mechanism by which this arises is not currently understood.

The goal of the project then is to diagnose the mechanisms leading to this forecast improvement, as well as to investigate any systematic effect of the land surface parameters on the model simulation. There is the also the possibility to extend the analysis to alternative years and regions. This project offers the student experience working with large datasets, as well as a good introduction to seasonal climate forecasting and verification.

Supervisors: David MacLeod and Antje Weisheimer

We have the following student summer projects available for 2014:

Predictability of the North Atlantic European climate

AOPP will run a summer research programme for undergraduate students from the second year and above. The projects run normally for up to 10 weeks between June 23rd - August 29th, but with some flexibility over the exact dates. Students will be paid via a stipend (provisionally £200 per week). The projects are full-time but hours can be discussed with your supervisor. Note that foreign applicants must already have the right to work in the UK.

We are seeking a motivated student for a project to explore some aspects of the predictability of the winter climate over the European/North Atlantic area. Forecasting the winter climate in that area using dynamical circulation models of the coupled atmosphere-ocean-sea ice climate system is notoriously difficult due to the high level of internal chaotic variability within the system. Recently some progress in the prediction of the North Atlantic Oscillation during December, January and February has been reported based on fully initialised seasonal forecasts started in November. However, given the high noise levels in the forecast data and the shortness of the forecast history, the robustness of the skill estimates remains unclear and needs further investigation.

In this project you will analyse seasonal forecast data from a multi-model ensemble over long retrospective forecast periods from the DEMETER and ENSEMBLES projects. This involves working with large data sets from global climate models, developing and employing diagnostics using appropriate programming languages and interpreting the results. Good knowledge of the atmospheric circulation would be of advantage.

The project will be supervised by Dr. Nathalie Schaller, Dr. Antje Weisheimer and Prof. Tim Palmer of the Predictability of Weather and Climate Group at AOPP in the Department of Physics, Oxford. Applicants should email a CV to Schaller [at] atm [dot] ox [dot] ac [dot] uk and Weisheimer [at] atm [dot] ox [dot] ac [dot] uk. Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis until the position is filled. Please feel free to contact Nathalie Schaller and Antje Weisheimer with any queries regarding this placement. Further information about summer projects is available from the AOPP webpage on the 2014 Summer Programme

Relevant literature:

  • Garcia-Serrano, J. and C. Frankignoul (2014), Retraction: High predictability of the winter Euro–Atlantic climate from cryospheric variability. Nature Geoscience, doi:10.1038/ngeo2164
  • Scaife, A. et al. (2014), Skillful long-range prediction of European and North American winters. Geophys Res. Lett., doi:10.1002/2014GL059637.

Active Projects

Towards the Prototype Probabilistic Earth-System Model for Climate Prediction

People: Tim Palmer
This project is funded by an ERC Advanced Investigator Grant 2011.

Handling model-related uncertainty in weather and climate forecasts

People: Antje Weisheimer, Tim Palmer, Myles Allen
This project is part of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) Climate & Weather Programmes.


People: Antje Weisheimer, Tim Palmer, David MacLeod
We are part of the FP7 project SPECS (Seasonal-to-decadal climate Prediction for the improvement of European Climate Services) and lead the workpackage 4.4. on Addressing Model Inadequacy. SPECS intends to develop the new generation of European operational seasonal-to-decadal climate forecast systems for the production of reliable, local climate information at the global scale. SPECS is a collaborative project with 20 partners from Europe and Brazil and is part of a cluster of European projects that will provide a coordinated response to the societal need for climate services.


People: Antje Weisheimer, Nathalie Schaller
We are part of the FP7 project EUCLEIA (EUropean CLimate and weather Events: Interpretation and Attribution).

Stochastic Parametrisation and Model Uncertainty

People: Hannah Arnold, Tim Palmer, Irene Moroz
Project details.


People: Antje Weisheimer, Tim Palmer, Tim Woollings
We are part of the NERC funded project IMPETUS (Improved Drought Forecasts for User Decision-Making). A post-doc position is currently being advertised, see Jobs.

Expired Projects


People: Andrew Dawson, Tim Palmer
We are part of the TEMPEST Project. Our involvement in TEMPEST covers "Investigating the response of intense extratropical cyclones to climate change in very high-resolution global atmospheric model experiments capable of capturing mesoscale structures."