Forensic oceanography: how does winter leave a fingerprint in the ocean?

CASE award with The Met Office (ZHAI_UENV20ARIES)

Forensic oceanography: how does winter leave a fingerprint in the ocean?

CASE award with The Met Office (ZHAI_UENV20ARIES)

Project Description


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

Prof Karen Heywood, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia

Prof David Stevens, School of Mathematics, University of East Anglia

Dr Patrick Hyder, Met Office

Scientific 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 physical oceanographers and climate modellers 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 at least a 2.1 honours degree in physics, mathematics, oceanography, meteorology, or climate science with good numerical skills.


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Lin, X. X. Zhai, Z. Wang, and D.R. Munday (2018) Mean, variability and trend of Southern Ocean wind stress: Role of wind fluctuations, Journal of Climate, 31, 3557-3573.
  • Rintoul, S.R. (2018) The global influence of localized dynamics in the Southern Ocean, Nature, 558, 209-218.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, and will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award.
  • 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 (see
  • This studentship will start on 1st October 2020, and the closing date for applications is 23:59 on 15th January 2020.
  • Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 18/19 February 2020.
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor.
  • Please note that the joint NERC-ESRC ARIES-SeNSS studentship projects have different deadlines and funding arrangements. For full details please visit, or contact

Studentship Open for Applications

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