PhD opportunity: The attribution of heatwaves and compound events, UNSW Sydney

PhD on the attribution of heatwaves and compound events, UNSW Sydney

Heatwaves, defined as prolonged periods of excessive heat, have increased in their intensity,
frequency and duration. These trends are expected to continue as anthropogenic climate change
intensifies. Many recent studies have employed the fraction of attributable risk (FAR) methodology to
determine how climate change has increased the risk of recent high-impact events occurring. This is
commonly done by comparing the frequency of the event of interest between model simulations that
omit climate change, and model simulations that include historical anthropogenic forcings on the
climate. Almost all heatwaves that have been analyzed under FAR have been demonstrated to have a
measurable anthropogenic influence. That is, climate change has increased the likelihood of these
heatwaves occurring.

However, traditional FAR studies have commonly only analyzed the human signal behind the
magnitude of heatwaves. This includes measuring how hot the event has been over arbitrarily defined
spatial and temporal boundaries. It is now well-established in the climate science literature that
heatwaves are not stand-alone events. They commonly occur in the presence of other extreme
events, for example, droughts, extremely high atmospheric pressure, or teleconnections to other
atmospheric phenomena. The proposed PhD will therefore undertake a novel examination of the
attribution of heatwaves, coincident with other plausible extreme events. These may include the
extreme events listed above, and/or other types of extremes such as marine heatwaves.
The general approach will be to analyze compound FAR assessments, and compare them to
traditional, magnitude-only assessments. This will be conducted across various geographical regions,
for a suite of climate model ensembles and discreet heatwave events. The project will therefore not
only simply perform compound attribution, but address how it may affect the detected
anthropogenic signal behind heatwaves.

The student will be based at UNSW Sydney, supervised by Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick. Co-supervisors
will be Dr Sophie Lewis at UNSW Canberra (ADFA) and Dr Andrew King at the University of
Melbourne. Spending extended time at each of these locations throughout the project is negotiable,
and the successful applicant will work closely which each supervisor’s individual teams.
The successful candidate will also be part of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for
Climate Extremes- an international research consortium of five Australian universities (The University
of New South Wales, Monash University, The University of Melbourne, The University of Tasmania
and The Australian National University) and a suite of outstanding national and international Partner
Organizations. The Centre provides excellent opportunities for travel and graduate student
development.

We are looking for outstanding graduates with a strong academic record including Honours Class I or
equivalent. Graduates with a strong background in statistics, mathematics, physics, mathematics,
climate or atmospheric science, or similar quantitative sciences are welcome. A demonstrated track
record in both statistics and climate science is desirable but not essential. Programming experience
with Matlab, Python, R or a similar language is also desirable. Domestic and international students are
welcome to apply, once we have discussed your expression of interest we will advise you on your
suitability and eligibility for appropriate scholarships.

Questions may be directed to Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick (sarah.kirkpatrick@unsw.edu.au). A CV, full
academic transcript, and the names of up to three academic referees should be sent to Sarah by
October 1, 2018. The successful candidate will be scheduled to start from the 16th September 2019.