Master of Science projects in earth sciences

The following research projects are available for students commencing the Master of Science (Earth Sciences) in 2021.

Geology projects

Understanding pigment pyrotechnology using the magnetic fingerprints of natural Fe-oxides and -hydroxides

Supervisors: Dr Agathe Lise-Pronovost (The University of Melbourne), Professor Rachel Popelka-Filcoff (The University of Melbourne), Professor Andy Herries (La Trobe University)

This research project in Archaeological Science will investigate Australian natural earth pigment pyrotechnology by examining their magnetic signatures. In Australia, natural earth pigments have been used over thousands of years for cultural expression, which continues into the present. To obtain a desired hue of red pigment, in some cases natural ochre (Fe hydroxides) are heat treated. In this project, experimental heat treatment of geological source samples from multiple locations will be analysed for colour, elemental composition, X-ray diffraction, and magnetic properties. What are the magnetic properties of the (red) hematite produced by heating, and how do these properties relate to the colour and heating temperature? Is there a distinctive magnetic signature for an individual source that could be used in the future to distinguish sources and potentially trace the pigment provenance? This project is part of a larger ARC Discovery project led by Professor Rachel Popelka-Filcoff and aimed at multidisciplinary analytical approaches to understanding the provenance of cultural ochre. The student will conduct the magnetism experiments at the Australian Archaeomagnetism Laboratory at La Trobe University in collaboration with Professor Andy Herries, and all other analyses at The University of Melbourne.

Three scientists conducting thermomagnetic analysis inside a laboratory

Thermomagnetic analysis at the Australian Archaeomagnetism Laboratory.

Budj Bim aboriginal pyrotechnology

Supervisors: Dr Agathe Lise-Pronovost (School of Earth Sciences, The University of Melbourne), Dr Martin Tomko (School of Engineering, The University of Melbourne), Professor Andy Herries (Archaeology, La Trobe University)

The Budj Bim World Heritage Cultural Landscape is internationally recognised for preserving the world’s oldest aquaculture system, which provided an economic and social base for the Gunditjmara people of South-western Victoria for more than six millennia. What technologies were used by Gunditjmara people to carve canals in the volcanic landscape? Oral tradition suggests that fire was used to assist cracking, but empirical evidence is lacking. This project will use archaeomagnetic analysis to provide evidence for ancient fire technology. With permission from the traditional owners, volcanic rock samples will be collected in and out the canals. Stepwise thermal demagnetisation will inform on the heating histories since the 40,000 years old Tyrendarra lava flow, including an evaluation of bushfire effect. This project is part of a larger project led by Dr Martin Tomko (School of Engineering, The University of Melbourne) that aims to elucidate the engineering processes that enabled the Gunditjmara to site, plan, construct, operate and maintain this aquaculture complex, to show how it may have evolved over time, and how it responded to changing social and environmental circumstances. The student will conduct the magnetism experiments at the Australian Archaeomagnetism Laboratory at La Trobe University (Melbourne) in collaboration with Professor Andy Herries.

Budj Bim digital elevation model revealing one of the carved canals.

Budj Bim digital elevation model revealing one of the carved canals.

Archaeological science of natural mineral pigments and cultural heritage

Supervisors: Professor Rachel Popelka-Filcoff (The University of Melbourne), Professor Claire Lenehan (Flinders University), Associate Professor Amy Roberts (Flinders University), Professor Claire Smith (Flinders University)

While much of our knowledge of past societies is lost to time, we can use analytical approaches to cultural materials (natural mineral pigments -Fe-oxides and -hydroxides) to answer key archaeological science questions. These questions include research to characterise ancient technologies and to understand cultural exchange of materials. As part of an ARC Discovery Project, we are developing a suite of sophisticated and non-destructive techniques, some based in geochemical methods, toward the chemical and physical characterisation of complex materials such as natural mineral pigments, resins and binders. Aspects of the project include elemental, mass spectrometric, microbial DNA and spectroscopic techniques. Opportunities include characterisation of binders in cultural heritage objects (py-GC-MS and IR spectroscopy) and material and pigment analysis by X-ray and spectroscopic methods. Collaborators include scientists at the University of Melbourne, Flinders University, archaeologists at Flinders University and Indigenous community partners.

Morphotectonics of Timor-Leste

Supervisor: Dr Brendan Duffy

A large cliff with a field on top, overlooking a river in Timor Leste

Timor has long been regarded as consisting of mafic forearc basement thrust over the Australian continental margin. Its outcrop has been regarded as shortened Australian crust of the lower plate of a blocked subduction zone, but that has been challenged by the work of recent students at The University of Melbourne. An ongoing challenge to resolving conflicting lines of evidence is the lack of field data, with small data-rich pockets and large intervening expanses with either no data at all, or no data younger than 50 years. Unidentified mass movements are also commonplace.

The successful applicant will carry out a detailed GIS and Leapfrog modelling analysis, using digital elevation models and detailed aerial and landsat imagery, to map the geology in a 3D environment, interpolating observations from data-rich areas through data-poor areas. The student will generate new maps and cross sections and develop new prospective study areas to test those products. Depending on the outcome of the current COVID-19 crisis, they may have the opportunity to test their work in the field.

Quantifying the thermal effects of the 2019-2020 southeast Australian bushfires on the geological record

Supervisors: Dr Samuel Boone, Professor Andrew Gleadow and Professor Barry Kohn

Wildfires have played a significant role in the Earth system since the appearance of terrestrial plants nearly 420 million years ago, influencing floral diversity, fauna habitat, the carbon cycle and climate. However, in areas where fossil charcoal has not been preserved, wildfires are not easily discernible in the geological record.

Using the 2019-2020 southeast Australian bushfires as a natural laboratory, this MSc in geology project will explore the potential of low-temperature thermochronology, temperature-sensitive radiometric dating techniques, as a novel method for fingerprinting ancient bushfires in the deep past. Core samples will be collected from previously analysed rock outcrops in areas of eastern Victoria and New South Wales burnt out during the 2019-2020 bushfires. These will then be analysed using a series of thermochronology techniques (apatite and monazite fission track and apatite (U-Th-Sm)/He) of varying temperature sensitivities and compared to pre-2019 results to systematically quantify the sensitivity of these methods to the thermal effects of bushfires.

A map of south eastern Australia with red marks across NSW and east Victoria indicating bushfires, with a picture of bushfires and kangaroos in the top left corner

Burn perimeter on 8 Jan 2020 (NSW Rural Fire Service; Vic Emergency; SA CFS). Inset photograph sourced from Matthew Abbott for The New York Times.

Carbon mineralization in copper mine tailings using mafic rocks

Supervisors: Professor Ralf Haese and Dr Jay Black

A diagram with olivine pyroxene, carbonate minerals, H2SO4, Mg2+, Fe2+ and other compounds, illustrating the relations betweeen the chemicalsThe fixation of carbon from atmospheric CO2 in carbonate minerals using mine waste may become an important negative emission technology and a pathway to minimize carbon emissions from mines. Copper mine tailings are highly acidic (pH ~ 2) and highly enriched in toxic heavy metals and transition metals such as Fe and Mg. Mixing such mine tailings with ground mafic rocks including olivine, calcic plagioclase and pyroxene leads to rapid mineral dissolution, neutralizing the acidic pH of waters draining from the tailings. Under the right conditions interaction with CO2 may also lead to carbonate mineral precipitation with the co-precipitation of some heavy metals. This study will quantify the rate of mineral dissolution and the extent of carbonate mineral precipitation with co-precipitation of heavy metals in a combined experimental and geochemical modelling study. The grain size and specific surface area of mafic minerals and the potential precipitation of (hydrous) Fe- and Mg-sulfate minerals will be of particular importance. The former will control mineral dissolution rates while the latter may be a competitive sink for bivalent ions prohibiting carbonate mineral formation.

Clay fines reactivity in reservoir rocks

Supervisors: Dr Jay Black and Prof Ralf Haese

A idagram illustrating clay fines damage's impact on sandstone core plugs, zooming in on the sandstoneMobilisation of fine grained minerals during the injection and/or production of fluids from reservoir rocks can lead to pore-throat clogging and reduced permeability. This formation damage negatively impacts the ability to inject gases for storage (E.g. CO2) or the production of fluid and gases from a reservoir. Various solutions to formation damage have been proposed, one of which employed by industry is the use of concentrated acids (HF and HCl) to dissolve the mobilized fines clogging pore-throats. A potential solution to the use of these hazardous acids is the use of more environmentally friendly organic acids, which have the potential to dissolve fine grained minerals in situ and remediate fines damage. This study would aim to use experimental techniques, including core flooding of sandstone cores affected by fines damage, and micro-CT analysis of cores before and after treatment in order to assess the degree of fine mineral dissolution using various organic-inorganic acid mixtures to treat cores.

Earth’s history through sedimentary geology

Supervisors: Associate Professor Malcolm Wallace and Dr Ashley Hood

An illustration of the cores of sedimentary rocks, in red, yellow and blackSedimentary rocks record almost four billion years of Earth’s environmental evolution and the evolution of life. Research in sedimentary geology can be used to identify the timing of tectonism, past climate and vegetation history, environmental change and the evolution of the oceans and atmosphere. Sediment hosted ore deposits and the diagenesis of sediments are also aspects of this research which can be related to industry projects. Ashleigh Hood and Malcolm Wallace can supervise or co-supervise a variety of projects related to sedimentary geology in any of these areas depending on what prospective Masters and Honours students are interested in. Any project would likely be a combination of fieldwork, petrography and sedimentary geochemistry (laser/isotopes). Some examples of active areas of research include:

  • Precambrian sediments of the Flinders Ranges including those related to “Snowball Earth”
  • Neoproterozoic reefs and the evolution of reefs on the early Earth (Flinders Ranges)
  • The oxygenation of the oceans and atmosphere
  • Phanerozoic iron stromatolites and link to environmental conditions (Flinders Ranges, Victoria)
  • Unusual microbialites from Victorian lakes (analogue for Mars?)
  • Paleozoic marine redox and link to animal-plant evolution (Victoria, NSW, Tasmania)
  • Archean carbonates and seawater conditions (Western Australia)
  • Rare earth elements in paleo-oceanography
  • McArthur basin, marine evolution and mineralisation (NT)

Neotectonics of Melbourne – do active faults underlie our city?

Supervisors: Associate Professor Mark Quigley, Associate Professor Malcolm Wallace, Dr Brendan Duffy, Dr Januka Attanayake

This project will be entirely based within greater Melbourne. We will examine topographic, geological and geophysical evidence for active faulting underneath our city. Active faults beneath large cities like Melbourne pose a significant surface rupture and strong shaking hazard. There will be fieldwork and geospatial research using GIS software. Possible research partners include Golder Associates Engineering and GHD. Research outcomes will include development of a source-based seismic hazard model for Melbourne city. The ideal candidate will possess a passion for structural geology, geophysics, and earthquake science, with expertise in GIS.

Digital elevation model derived from LiDAR data showing the NE-striking Beaumaris monocline in southeast.jpg

Digital elevation model derived from LiDAR data showing the NE-striking Beaumaris monocline in southeast.

A high resolution crustal seismic model for southeast Australia

Supervisors: Dr. Januka Attanayake, Professor Mike Sandiford, and Mr. Abraham Jones

Two diagrams illustrating seismic activity underground in Southeast AustraliaSoutheast Australia inherits a complex geological history, much of which is imprinted on crustal structure. Thus, deciphering crustal architecture in this region can provide insights into past geologic processes and present-day geodynamics. In this project, the Master's candidate will image the crustal thickness and seismic properties, namely P and S wave velocity ratio, using the H-K stacking method. Earthquake waveform data for the project will be obtained from the University of Melbourne seismic network and other partner networks currently operating in Southeast Australia. Expected outcomes of this project are: (1) a new high resolution 3-D crustal structure model for Southeast Australia, (2) an interpretation of geological history and geodynamics based on the new crustal seismic model. A background in geology, physics, math, and computer coding is desirable.

Numerical modelling investigation of the Daly gap

Supervisor: Dr Eleanor Green

A picture of anseditesIn suites of igneous rocks that span the compositional continuum from dolerite to rhyolite, the volumes of rocks with intermediate compositions is typically small. This gap in the compositional spectrum is known as the Daly gap, and its origin has been debated for decades. In this project you will use the phase equilibrium modelling software THERMOCALC (https://hpxeosandthermocalc.org) to model a range of crystallisation scenarios that might generate suites of genetically-related rocks. You will compare the results of this modelling with compositional and age data from the scientific literature, and use it to evaluate a variety of hypotheses concerning the Daly gap.

First principles structural optimization of feldspars

Supervisor: Dr Eleanor Green

The feldspar group of minerals appears in a wide range of rock types in the crust and shallow mantle. Given the ubiquity of the feldspars in crustal rocks, it is important to describe their thermodynamic properties accurately when we model the occurrence of rocks under given conditions of pressure and temperature (an approach known as phase-equilibrium modelling; see https://hpxeosandthermocalc.org). Currently, however, our modelling is hindered by our limited understanding of the framework-type lattice structure of the feldspars. Feldspars undergo complex solid solution, constrained by the ordering of Al and Si on the tetrahedral sites, and subject to polymorphism. You will seek new insights into feldspar structural and thermodynamic properties, using first-principles (ab initio) structural optimisation via the SIESTA software.

A granulite-facies metabasite containing plagioclase feldspar, clinopyroxene and orthopyroxene

A granulite-facies metabasite containing plagioclase feldspar, clinopyroxene and orthopyroxene.

40Ar/39Ar dating and geochemistry of felsic volcanism in the Omo-Turkana Basin, northern Kenya

Supervisors: Professor David Phillips, Dr Erin Matchan, Mr Hayden Dalton (and others)

This project involves petrography, geochemistry and possibly 40Ar/39Ar dating.

An image of a plane with two propellors in the desert

The petrogenesis of kimberlites and related rocks

Supervisors: Professor David Phillips, Dr Erin Matchan, Mr Hayden Dalton (and others)

The project involves petrography, mineral chemistry, geochemistry and possibly 40Ar/39Ar, Rb-Sr and/or U-Pb dating.

A deep excavation site

Origin of volcanism in SE Australia: older volcanics (VIC) and newer volcanics (VIC, SA)

Supervisors: Professor David Phillips, Dr Erin Matchan, Mr Hayden Dalton (and others)

The project involves field work, petrography, mineral chemistry, geochemistry and possibly 40Ar/39Ar dating.

A cliff of volcanic rock

Microfossils, climate and environment

Supervisor: Associate Professor Stephen Gallagher

The following project combines various stratigraphic techniques with microfossil assemblage and stable isotope geochemistry (once the labs reopen) to interpret Cenozoic to recent climate and ocean change:

  1. The Twelve Apostles: age and environment change through the Middle Miocene Climate Optimum 15 million years ago
  2. Castle Cove, Cape Otway: the icehouse cometh, a window into the first Cenozoic icesheets 33 million years ago
  3. International Ocean Discovery Program: evidence of the waxing and waning of the British Irish Icesheet over the last 500,000 years from offshore Ireland.

Atmospheric science projects

Quasi-linear convective system contribution to sub-daily extreme rainfall in Victoria

Supervisors: Professor Todd Lane and Dr Stacey Hitchcock

A diagram showing a squall line with a black outline of quasi-linear convective systems, in green, yellow and blue

Quasi-linear convective systems (QLCSs), or organized lines of convection, are a regular feature in Melbourne and the surrounding region. Days when these features occur make up the vast majority of the most extreme rainfall days in the last ~15 years. However, QLCSs often only traverse a local region, and may only occur over a period of a few hours, so consequently often make up a fraction of the rain that falls on those extreme days. Daily and multi-day extremes are more commonly associated with large scale and longer duration flooding events, but flash flooding is often associated with more intense rainfall over a shorter duration. This project will explore the contribution QLCSs to shorter duration (1,3,6 hr) extremes and the characteristics of QLCSs (size, orientation, propagation, etc.) that lead to the most extreme events.

Last Glacial Maximum atmospheric circulation over the Australian region

Supervisor: Dr Josephine Brown

A heat map of Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, with light green patches around Australia's bordersThe Last Glacial Maximum (21,000 years ago) was a time of global cooling and lower sea levels, but changes in regional climate and rainfall are not well known. This project will make use of new PMIP4 climate model simulations of the Last Glacial to investigate changes in the large-scale atmospheric circulation over the Australian region. The model runs will be compared with a range of proxy records showing changes in temperature, rainfall and circulation during glacial climate.

This project will develop skills in analysis of climate model output, understanding of atmospheric dynamics in the Southern Hemisphere, and ability to interpret proxy records from sources such as speleothems, ice cores and marine sediment records.

South Pacific Convergence Zone variability in past and future climates

Supervisor: Dr Josephine Brown

A diagram illustrating rain patterns over the Indian Ocean and the north of Australia, with the map including Australia, NZ and the AmericasThe South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ) is a band of convective rainfall that extends across the southwest Pacific and influences the climate of many Pacific Island nations. The SPCZ varies on interannual time scales in response to El Nino-Southern Oscillation and on multi-decadal time scales in response to the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation. This project will evaluate the interannual and decadal variability of the SPCZ in the current generation of global climate models (CMIP6). This relationship will then be investigated in past climates (mid-Holocene, 6000 years before present) and also in future climate simulations.

This project will develop skills in analysis of climate model output, as well as understanding of the climate variability of the Pacific region.

Analyzing CMIP6 climate model data

Supervisor: Associate Professor Malte Meinshausen

A graph showing increasing global mean surface air temperaturesIn this MSc project a candidate who is well versed in python could analyze the newest generation of climate model data from the Sixth Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP6). We look for a candidate that is interested to analyze global, hemispheric, and large-scale regional precipitation and temperature timeseries (as we derived from the underlying gridded data and made available on cmip6.unimelb.edu.au). One possible research question would be to correlate large-scale regional data against aerosol emissions, GHG forcings and temperatures (similar to what we assessed in this paper by Frieler et al., 2012) based on the new CMIP6 data. Another possible research question would be to consider the correlation between the model’s historical warming and precipitation and its future projections. Using historical observational constraints, possibly a weighting of models could be derived in terms of how well they matched historical observations.

Probing the microphysical and macrophysical properties of Southern Ocean clouds

Supervisor: Dr Yi Huang

The Southern Ocean (SO) is one of the cloudiest places on Earth. Global climate models (GCMs) are challenged by large uncertainties and biases in simulating SO radiative fluxes, traced to poor understanding of clouds in this remote region. These errors not only limit the ability of climate models to simulate future climate for the SO and Antarctica, they also have far-reaching impacts on the entire globe. To provide more accurate assessment of the future climate, one would need to improve the simulations of these clouds in GCMs.

This project uses airborne, in-situ observations on the scales of hundreds of meters, to evaluate and help improve the GCM simulations, and to examine possible impacts of global warming and anthropogenic emissions on clouds in the future.

Characterisation of clouds and precipitation in extratropical storms

Supervisors: Dr Yi Huang, Professor Todd Lane

Extratropical storms are capable of producing anything from cloudiness and mild showers to thunderstorms, blizzards, and tornadoes. This project aims to explore the vertical structure and classification of clouds and precipitation in extratropical storms (i.e. extratropical cyclones and fronts) using state-of-the-art observations from spaceborne cloud radar and lidar onboard the A-Train satellite constellation.

Assessing Himawari-8 satellite cloud products using ship-based and spaceborne observations

Supervisors: Dr Yi Huang, scientists from BOM

An image of a satellite overlooking planet earthHimawari-8, a geostationary satellite operated by the Japan Meteorological Agency, became operational in July 2015. While the Himawari-8 data have been used extensively in the BOM to assist in real-time analysis and weather forecasting, a rigorous evaluation of the retrieval products is lacking. This project aims to evaluate the Himawari-8 cloud products using spaceborne and shipborne radar-lidar observations from recent field campaigns.

Measuring and modelling the contribution of traffic to urban pollution and greenhouse emissions

Supervisor: Professor Peter Rayner, potentially co-supervised by CSIRO staff

  • Measurements of CO and CO2 from instrument on roof;
  • Use to separate combustion from biospheric sources;
  • Quantify the role of traffic in CO2 emissions;
  • Study the impact of COVID on atmospheric pollution in Melbourne
  • Can upscale to urban modelling (potential PhD)
  • Students will gain skills in atmospheric measurement and modelling
  • Examine the relationship between urbanisation and pollution globally

    Supervisor: Professor Peter Rayner with possible support from Architecture Building and Planning

  • Combine a new data set on urban growth with satellite data on pollutants
  • Establish relationships between urban growth and pollutant emissions
  • Calculate the trend in health impacts of urban emissions and population increase
  • Students will gain skills in handling big data and urban science
  • Improved modelling of the planetary boundary layer using radon measurements

    Supervisor: Professor Peter Reyner

  • Movement of heat, moisture, momentum and tracers through ABL a major problem for both climate and air quality models
  • Continuous measurements of Radon provide a measurement constraint
  • Data assimilation techniques can include this constraint into models
  • Students will gain skills in atmospheric modelling and general data assimilation techniques
  • The interplay of the El Nino Southern Oscillation, atmospheric dynamics and the growth rate of atmospheric CO2

    Supervisor: Professor Peter Reyner, possibly co-supervised by CSIRO staff

  • The relative role of the northern hemisphere, tropics and southern hemisphere in removing anthropogenic CO2 from the atmosphere revealed by relative growth rates of atmospheric CO2 around the globe
  • These growth rates are also affected by atmospheric transport
  • Variations in transport are linked to El Nino episodes
  • The project will study long-term analyses of atmospheric dynamics (ERA5) and high-precision CO2 records to probe this relationship and allow improved attribution of growth rate variations to sources/sinks or transport
  • Students will gain skills in atmospheric dynamics and analysing trace gas records
  • Improving climate projections of extremes using advanced ensemble post-processing techniques on CMIPx ensembles.

    Supervisor: Professor Craig Bishop

    On average, in the summers of 2080-2100, how many days will Tmax exceed 35 C in Hobart/Melbourne/Perth/Adelaide/Sydney?

    One relatively low cost and promising approach for attempting to narrow the uncertainty in answers to these questions is by assigning weights to CMIPx ensemble members based on their performance relative to historical observations and then using this weighted ensemble to make a prediction. A plausible measure of the extent to which this approach can reduce projection error can be obtained by replacing the actual observations by pseudo-observation counterparts from just one of the CMIPx projections. One can then test the ability of sub-ensembles (that do not include the member used for generating the obs) weighted using the historical pseudo-observations to predict future pseudo-observations (e.g. from 2080-2100). In this project, you will strive to improve ensemble weighting techniques and design relevant metrics of changes in extremes.

    Estimation of observation error biases and error correlation

    Supervisor: Professor Craig Bishop

    Currently, just a few percent of the hundreds of millions of observations taken by satellites are used for weather and climate forecasting. A primary reason for this is that many of these observations have errors whose biases and error correlations are poorly known. In this project, you will explore and discover new and more accurate methods of estimating observation error biases and correlations and hence enable the wealth of information in these observations to be used to create more accurate weather and climate prediction systems.

    Assimilation of high-resolution satellite cloud imagery

    Supervisor: Professor Craig Bishop

    Clouds and precipitation are primary sources of error in both weather and climate models. An extremely promising way of correcting these errors is to use advanced cloud observation assimilation techniques to define and correct these errors. Current cloud observation assimilation techniques are poorly equipped to do this because they do not account for the non-Gaussian nature of uncertainties or the strongly non-linear relationship between cloud, temperature and humidity. In this project, you will develop and test new algorithms for assimilation of high-resolution satellite cloud imagery such as that generated by the Himawari and Severi satellites.

    Use of machine learning, artificial intelligence and high-resolution simulation to improve coarse resolution models

    Supervisor: Professor Craig Bishop

    Clouds and precipitation are primary sources of error in both weather and climate models. Because climate models need to be run for hundreds of years, they are run at a much coarser resolution than the models used for short-term weather prediction. The coarseness of climate model resolution causes them to mis-represent climate critical processes like oceanic upwelling near coastlines and associated vast regions of high albedo low clouds that influence the total climate warming to increasing Green House Gas emissions. Nevertheless, such processes are well represented by high resolution coupled weather forecast models. In this project, you will discover Machine learning methods to render coarse resolution models statistically indistinguishable from high resolution models filtered to the scale of the coarse resolution models.

    Use of machine learning, artificial intelligence and data assimilation to improve parameterizations in high resolution models

    Supervisor: Professor Craig Bishop

    Even our highest-resolution models of the atmosphere and ocean require the simplified representation of “parameterization” of poorly resolved processes such as cloud particle formation, rain, turbulent mixing. Ideally, these parameterization schemes should be tuned to maximize the ability of the high resolution model to produce trajectories that are consistent with high spatio-temporal resolution observations. However, methods for doing this are in their infancy. In this project, you will build tools that enable the creation of Machine Learning based parameterizations that enable model trajectories that stay close to observations over much longer periods of time than those in current usage.

    Assimilation of ice and chlorophyll observations into ocean models and coupled models

    Supervisor: Craig Bishop

    Forecasts and observations of ice and chlorophyll have highly asymmetric non-Gaussian uncertainty distributions and, in the case of ice, a strongly non-linear relationship with the temperature of the ocean. Current ocean data assimilation schemes do a poor job of accounting for such non-Gaussianity and non-linearity. In this project, you will discover and implement new methods for assimilating ice and chlorophyll observations and demonstrate their superiority to existing techniques.

    PhD in past climate reconstruction

    Supervisor: Professor Craig Bishop

    The last decade has seen an explosion of research showing how corals and trees in both living and fossilized forms can be used to infer averages of the temperature and precipitation experienced while they were developing. These approaches provide proxy temperature and precipitation record dating back hundreds/thousands of years at locations where there were no temperature or precipitation observations made by humans. It is likely that more and more of these proxy temperature records will be discovered in the coming years at new locations. Each year more such proxy temperature and precipitation records are discovered. If selected, your PhD research will create new methods for finding the range of possible atmospheric and oceanic trajectories that are consistent with these observations. Your primary tool will be data assimilation methods which use climate models to optimally propagate and combine observational information that is distributed through space and time. A BSc (Hons) is a pre-requisite for the position. A major or minor in one or more of Applied Mathematics, Statistics and Physics would increase your chances of selection for the position.

    Statistical corrections for improved week 3 prediction

    Supervisor: Professor Craig Bishop

    Coupled models have known biases. Advanced statistical forecast models such as Linear Inverse Models (LIMs) have no bias when tested against historical data. Furthermore, while coupled models tend to under-persist larger scale modes associated with blocking, NAO. SAM, …, etc, LIMs persist such modes in accord with past behaviour. In this project, you will discover improved statistical models for predicting the errors in sub-seasonal forecast models and use them to improve week 3 predictions.

    Event attribution and climate change

    Supervisor: Professor Craig Bishop

    The climate is warming. Warmer air holds much more water vapour than colder air. Water vapour releases latent heat when it changes phase to form clouds of liquid and ice particles; consequently, warmer air provides cyclones with a greater reservoir of latent heat energy than colder air. On the other hand, the moist adiabats associated with warm surface air leave the post-convection atmosphere in a stabler state than the post-convective air associated with colder surface air.

    To what extent are today’s extreme weather events made more extreme by the warmer background state?

    To address this question, one would like to see how differently the precursors of today’s extreme weather events would subsequently evolve if they had been produced in the pre-industrial climate. Similarly, one would like to know how the precursors of extreme events in a pre-industrial climate would behave if they were produced in today’s climate. In this project, in collaboration with the Bureau of Meteorology, you will use advanced data assimilation tools to address this question.

    Improving ocean data assimilation with Hybrid covariance models and vertical covariance localization

    Supervisor: Professor Craig Bishop

    In the last decade. Hybrid forecast error covariance models that mix climatological covariances with ensemble-based flow dependent covariances, and vertical model space ensemble covariance localization have led to some of the biggest ever jumps in forecast skill at major weather prediction centres. In this project, working in collaboration with the Bureau of Meteorology, you will discover and understand how such changes would affect ocean forecasting accuracy.