Exploring the value of decadal climate prediction for adaptation planning


Contact Professor Suraje Dessai to discuss this project further informally.

Project description

Decadal climate prediction is an exciting new area of climate science (Smith et al. 2007; Meehl et al., 2009; Meehl et al., 2013) with considerable potential to benefit society (Vera et al. 2010). The Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5 (CMIP5) experimental protocol includes a sequence of near-term predictions (1–10 years) where observation-based information is used to initialize the models used to produce the forecasts. The goal is to exploit the predictability of internally-generated climate variability as well as that of the externally forced component (Kirtman et al. 2013). The result depends on the ability of the model to capture the phase of the natural variability and consequentially also depends on the way the initial state is captured and assimilated by the model. The scientific community is currently assessing the skill of decadal climate predictions but many challenges remain.

The aim of this interdisciplinary project is to assess the value of decadal climate prediction in informing decision-making. This will be done by using a novel combination of natural and social science techniques. Within the natural sciences, predictability and skill will be assessed, for example, through comparison of past observations with modeled hindcasts at decision relevant spatial and temporal scales. Using social science methods, credibility, legitimacy and salience (cf. Cash et al. 2003) of predictions will be assessed from a stakeholder perspective. The project will build on the stakeholder research currently being done by the EUPORIAS project: European Provision Of Regional Impacts Assessments on Seasonal and Decadal Timescales (a European FP7 project coordinated by the UK Met Office). The studentship project will select one or two EUPORIAS stakeholders (e.g., a water or energy company) who could benefit from climate predictions on the decadal timescale. This will provide the decision-making context where value can be assessed.

The specific objectives of the project are to:

  1. Identify one or two stakeholders to provide a decision-making context
  2. Assess the skill of decadal climate predictions at decision relevant spatial and temporal scales based on modeled hindcasts and past observations.
  3. Construct decadal climate predictions for future periods at decision relevant spatial and temporal scales
  4. Assess the value of decadal climate predictions for the identified stakeholders

Requirements: Meteorology/climate/atmospheric science; environmental science; geography; environmental social science

Training: the project will provide an opportunity for the candidate to develop skills in climate science and environmental social science

Research context: this project will be supervised by Professor Suraje Dessai (from the Sustainability Research Institute) and Professor Piers Forster (from the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science) at Leeds and by Dr Carlo Buontempo at the Met Office in Exeter. Both Leeds supervisors’ are Lead Authors of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report for Working Group I (The Physical Science Basis; Forster) and Working Group II (Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability; Dessai). Dr Buontempo is the scientific coordinator of the EUPORIAS project, a large European project that aims to improve our ability to maximise the societal benefit of seasonal and decadal climate predictions.


Cash, D. W., W. C. Clark, et al. (2003). "Knowledge systems for sustainable development." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 100(14): 8086-8091.

Kirtman et al. (2014) Near-term Climate Change: Projections and Predictability, in IPCC: “Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis”.

Smith, D. M., S. Cusack, et al. (2007). "Improved Surface Temperature Prediction for the Coming Decade from a Global Climate Model." Science 317(5839): 796-799.

Meehl, G. A., L. Goddard, et al. (2009). "Decadal Prediction: Can It Be Skillful?" Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 90(10): 1467-1485.

Meehl, G. A., L. Goddard, et al. (2013). "Decadal Climate Prediction: An Update from the Trenches." Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

Vera, C., M. Barange, et al. (2010). "Needs Assessment for Climate Information on Decadal Timescales and Longer." Procedia Environmental Sciences 1(0): 275-286.

Entry requirements

Applications are invited from candidates with or expecting a minimum of a UK upper second class honours degree (2:1), and/or a Master's degree in the relevant subject area.

If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence that you meet the University’s minimum English Language requirements.

Additional staff contact

Supervisors: Prof. Piers Forster and Dr Carlo Buontempo (Met Office)

How to apply

Formal applications for research degree study should be made online through the university's website. Please state clearly in the research information section that the PhD you wish to be considered for is the ‘Exploring the value of decadal climate prediction for adaptation planning' as well as Prof. Suraje Dessai as your proposed supervisor.

We welcome scholarship applications from all suitably-qualified candidates, but UK black and minority ethnic (BME) researchers are currently under-represented in our Postgraduate Research community, and we would therefore particularly encourage applications from UK BME candidates. All scholarships will be awarded on the basis of merit.

If you require any further information please contact the Graduate School Office e: apply-phd@see.leeds.ac.uk, t: +44 (0)113 343 1634.