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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities

Project Title: Spontaneous Dansgaard-Oeschger type oscillations in climate models (SDOO)

Lead Supervisor: Irene Malmierca-Vallet, British Antarctic Survey,

Co-supervisor: Louise Sime, British Antarctic Survey,

Project Description:

The concept of Tipping Points, critical thresholds in our climate system, helps to define the current climate emergency and strengthens calls for urgent climate action. One of the most rapid climate changes observed, are the Dansgaard-Oeschger (D-O) events. During an event, Greenland transitions from cold stadial (GS) to warmer Greenland Interstadial (GI) conditions within a decade. Surface air temperatures (SATs) over Greenland increase by 10-15°C and local snow accumulation almost doubles.

At the British Antarctic Survey, we have an ongoing model intercomparison project (SDOO: to study spontaneous, DO-type oscillations in climate models. The main goal of SDOO is to cross compare existing simulations using a common set of diagnostics so we can analyse the mechanisms and the characteristics of the oscillations. In this project, the prospective student will analyse some of the SDOO model data, looking particularly at ways to test whether the system is approaching a tipping point. This is a big data problem – using TB of output from around ten Earth System Model (ESM)/climate models.

Crossing a critical threshold can result in a structural variation of the system. This is mathematically known as a bifurcation (Arnold, 1994), which assumes that the generic dynamical behavior at bifurcation (tipping point) may be detected even with only incomplete understanding of the dynamics of the system. This is especially useful for detecting early warning signals prior to a climate shift. There are two common characteristics of the approach to a bifurcation point: (1) rise in variance of the observed signal (guctuation-dissipation theorem: kubo, 1966) and, (2) rise in autocorrelation linked to a critical slow down.

Following the methodology of Ditlevsen and Johnsen (2010), the prospective student will help to develop a metric for quantitatively assessing and detecting early warning signals prior to a D-O tipping event.

Please explain how the project can be carried out remotely and what opportunities the student will have to be integrated into the department and/or research group:

The whole project can be carried out remotely. The prospective student will get access to JASMIN (, where the SDOO data is stored. JASMIN is an excellent data analysis facility for environmental science. Covid restrictions at BAS Cambridge were lifted on Wednesday 6 April 2022, so the prospective student will have the opportunity to work from home or come into the odce as often as desired.

The student will beneIt from inclusion in the IDP (Ice Dynamics and Paleoclimate) research team at the British Antarctic Survey. The IDP group has weekly meetings, which are an excellent opportunity to exchange insights and share your work with others. Also, the student will be encouraged to engage in science meetings, attend science talks and get involved in the BAS student network.

Eligibility criteria

Students must meet all of the eligibility requirements listed below to apply for a REP:

  • Be undertaking their first undergraduate degree studies (or integrated Masters). Note: students in their final year who have graduated and no longer have student status at the time the placement starts are not eligible. If the student meets the eligibility criteria (i.e., has student status) at the beginning of the placement, we would consider the eligibility criteria to be met even if the student graduates during the course of the placement.
  • Be eligible for subsequent NERC PhD funding, and have the right to work in the UK (for example an international student currently studying in the UK with a Tier 4 or equivalent visa that is valid for the duration of the REP)

For more information about the undergraduate summer Research Experience Placement (REP) scheme and how to apply see the REPs overview. The closing date is 27 May 2022.


The REPs programme is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.