Forensic Oceanography: How Does Winter Leave a Fingerprint in the Ocean?


Forensic Oceanography: How Does Winter Leave a Fingerprint in the Ocean?


Project Description


Professor David Stevens (School of Mathematics, University of East Anglia) contact me

Professor Karen Heywood (School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia)

Dr Xiaoming Zhai (School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia)

Project Background

The Southern Ocean is a critical component of the global climate system, accounting for about 75% of ocean heat uptake and 40% of ocean anthropogenic carbon uptake. Winter Water, the remnant of the previous winter’s mixed layer, represents a snapshot of previous winter’s interaction between ocean, ice and atmosphere. Despite its importance, processes responsible for Winter Water formation are not thought to be well represented in current Earth System Models. The aim of this project is to assess Winter Water and its variability, in both newly-available Southern Ocean observational data sets and the UK’s climate models, determine the underlying physical mechanisms, and test Winter Water layer depth as a metric to assess Earth System Model performance.

Research Methodology

You will join a productive research team of climate modellers and physical oceanographers at UEA and the Met Office in Exeter (CASE partner). You will analyse Winter Water temperature, salinity and depth in observations from tagged seals, research ships and Argo floats. You will assess the performance of the UK’s climate models at different resolutions and with different mixing parameterizations in simulating Winter Water and its variability. You will use simplified models to investigate the key physical processes responsible for Winter Water formation, e.g. air-sea interaction, sea ice formation/melting and eddy subduction. You will test the hypothesis that Winter Water depth is a more robust indicator than mixed layer depth of Earth System Model performance.


This project will provide you with a thorough training in data analysis, numerical modelling, ocean dynamics and air-sea interactions. Researchers at UEA regularly lead and take part in field campaigns and we anticipate that you will participate in a Southern Ocean research cruise to gain oceanographic observational expertise. There will also be opportunities for you to attend summer schools.

Person Specification

We seek an enthusiastic candidate with strong scientific interests and self-motivation. They will have a degree in physics, mathematics, oceanography, meteorology, or climate science with good numerical skills.


  • 1. Heuzé, C., K.J. Heywood, D.P. Stevens, and J.K. Ridley (2013) Southern Ocean bottom water characteristics in CMIP5 models, Geophysical Research Letters, 40, 1409-1414.
  • 2. Heuzé, C., K.J. Heywood, D.P. Stevens and J.K. Ridley (2015) Changes in global ocean bottom properties and volume transports in CMIP5 models under climate change scenarios, Journal of Climate, 28, 2917-2944.
  • 3. Hyder, P. et al (2018) Critical Southern Ocean climate model biases traced to atmospheric model cloud errors. Nature Communications, 9, 3625.
  • 4. Mallett, H.K.W., L. Boehme, M. Fedak, K.J. Heywood, D.P. Stevens, and F. Roquet (2018) Variation in the distribution and properties of Circumpolar Deep Water in the eastern Amundsen Sea, on seasonal timescales, using seal-borne tags, Geophysical Research Letters, 45, 4982-4990.
  • 5. Munday, D.R., and X. Zhai (2017) The impact of atmospheric storminess on the sensitivity of Southern Ocean circulation to wind stress changes, Ocean Modelling, 115, 14-26.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2021. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2021.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£15,285 p.a. for 2020-21) and research funding. For the first time in 2021/22 international applicants (EU and non-EU) will be eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships. Please note ARIES funding does not cover visa costs (including immigration health surcharge) or other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses in the subject area.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside significant relevant non-academic experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship click on the “Apply now” link below.

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