PhD Studentship: Assessing High Latitude Atmosphere-Ionophere Coupling: Ionospheric Impacts of SSWs at High Latitudes

University of Birmingham

Space Environment and Radio Engineering (SERENE) Group

Project Description

Sudden Stratospheric Warmings (SSWs) are severe climatic events in the upper atmosphere, where the accumulated effect of planetary wave breaking results in a weakening of the stratospheric polar vortex, sometimes resulting in a reversal of the stratospheric zonal wind. These sudden changes to the stratospheric environment drastically modify the nature of coupling between the lower atmosphere and the thermosphere/ionosphere above, sometimes with effects as severe as those associated with geomagnetic storms and space weather. To assess this coupling, the ESA VERtical coupling in Earth’s Atmosphere at mid and high latitudes (VERA) project, primarily through the use of Swarm satellite measurements, conducted a preliminary assessment of the effects of SSWs on the ionosphere.

A fully funded 3.5-year PhD position is now available with the Space Environment and Radio Engineering (SERENE) Group at the University of Birmingham on the topic of Sudden Stratospheric Warming effects on radio propagation at high latitudes. SSWs have long been demonstrated to strongly modulate the coupling between the atmosphere and ionosphere; however, due to the complexity in clearly identifying the sources of variability at high latitudes (a region strongly coupled to both the atmosphere below and the magnetosphere and solar wind above), there remain several questions in exactly how these high latitude changes in atmospheric circulation and dynamics affect the ionosphere in this region.

The successful applicant will work with Dr. David R. Themens to expand on the work of the ESA VERA project, making use of coupled whole atmosphere models and a number of high latitude remote sensing instruments to study the effects of SSWs on the high latitude ionosphere. These instruments include, but are not limited to, ionosondes, Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receivers, in situ plasma measurements from the ESA Swarm mission, and Incoherent Scatter Radars. Particular focus will be on the use of measurements made with instruments operated by the Canadian High Arctic Ionospheric Network (CHAIN) and neighboring instruments in the Canadian Arctic Region. SERENE, at the University of Birmingham, is a quickly expanding and dynamic research group with research interests ranging from ionospheric data assimilation and environmental statistics to radio frequency propagation and scintillation. The group has strong links to the NERC-funded UK Space Weather Instrumentation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk (SWIMMR) program and regularly conducts work on behalf of the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and the European Space Agency.

The successful applicant will become a part of this group and will be expected to conduct impactful research to present at international conferences and publish in high-tier peer reviewed journals. For more information, please visit our website:

Funding Information

Fully funded 3.5 year PhD position.

Eligibility Requirements

Applications are open to students that have, or expect to obtain, a good 2:1 (Hons) or 1st class degree (or equivalent EU/overseas degree, e.g. a thesis-based Masters degree) in any of a wide variety of different scientific disciplines, including Physics, Mathematics, Atmospheric Science, Electrical Engineering, or other areas directly related to the research topic. Acquaintance with high latitude ionospheric and/or atmospheric dynamics is considered an asset. Similarly, an understanding of ionospheric radio propagation and remote sensing is also an asset. Applicants should be self-motivated, creatively inclined, and have compelling communications skills. Strong programming skills, including experience in either Matlab or Python, and the ability to work in the Linux environment are essential.

Application Process

Interested students should send David a complete CV and a one-page (single sided) statement on their research interests at [email protected]

To apply for this PhD, please email

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