Project Highlights:

  1. Climate modelling
  2. Determine the climate response to conventional and nuclear conflicts
  3. Development of conflict scenarios

Following a catastrophic global nuclear exchange it is predicted that airborne particles, such as fine soil and smoke resulting from explosions and fires, could circle the globe, and cooling the surface for years, in what has become known as a “nuclear winter”. The impacts of regional scale nuclear exchanges, and in particular, conventional (non-nuclear) conflicts, however, is less well-understood. The main goal of this project is to use a state-of-the-art climate model to determine the climate response after conventional and nuclear wars.

A nuclear winter: this is what the world would look like, after a large-scale nuclear holocaust.  Thick clouds of smoke from the resulting fires would initially cover the Northern Hemisphere, making it cold and dark at the Earth’s surface.


The student will use the Community Earth System Model (CESM) (http://www.cesm.ucar.edu/ ) to investigate the climate response in the aftermath of conventional conflicts and nuclear exchanges (at local, regional and global scales). They will install the CESM and evaluate it against benchmark simulations and key observations. The student will then devise a set of conflict scenarios based on likely regional & global tensions, and established military capabilities (e.g., inventories, yields), and amend the CESM code to simulate the atmospheric effects of known weapon capabilities (e.g., injections of black carbon into the stratosphere following an atomic explosion). A climate simulation will be performed for each scenario, and compared to a control run. Sensitivity tests (e.g., to injection heights) will also be conducted. Simulated changes in the Earth’s radiative balance, global temperatures and precipitation, the biosphere, and atmospheric chemistry, will be carefully assessed to determine the impact of potential conflicts on climate.

Training and Skills

This project offers the candidate an excellent opportunity to work with the latest generation of climate models, to assess the environmental impacts of conventional and nuclear conflicts. The student will study a wide variety of topics covering: climate modelling, data visualisation, and data analysis. The student will work with an existing climate model under supervised guidance. The student will learn key computer languages (e.g., FORTRAN, IDL, python, shell-scripting), and gain experience of high performance computing within a Linux environment. 

CENTA students are required to complete 45 days training throughout their PhD including a 10 day placement. In the first year, students will be trained as a single cohort on environmental science, research methods and core skills. Throughout the PhD, training will progress from core skills sets to master classes specific to CENTA research themes. 


Year 1: Installation and benchmarking testing of the Community Earth System Model (CESM).

Year 2: Scenario development and experiment design.

Perform key CESM control and sensitivity simulations

Year 3: Detailed analysis of subsequent model outputs Manuscript preparation and submission to high impact journal. Presentation of results at international conference.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

Michael Barkley is Lecturer in Climate Change Adaptation and a past NERC Fellow. His expertise is in investigating mapping reactive carbon emissions from space using a combination of models and multiple satellite data sets. He has over a decade’s experience of retrieving and interpreting satellite observations of tropospheric chemistry, and a strong background in chemistry-transport modelling.

The CESM climate model is hosted by the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) based at Boulder (USA). The student will be expected to work closely with the CESM support team in the development of the project simulations. Student will have the chance to attend CESM workshops, which offer excellent opportunities for personal development and networking.

Further Details

Interested applicants are advised to contact Dr Michael Barkley (mpb14@le.ac.uk) before applying.