Project highlights

  • Use state-of-the-art climate model simulations to further our understanding of climate change during the time of the earliest human civilisations
  • Evaluate how well the climate models that are used to predict future climate change can represent abrupt changes in the past
  • Interact with an existing research project with interdisciplinary expertise.


The past few thousand years provides the background to the development of agriculture and the earliest civilisations. It is also the natural context for accelerating anthropogenic modification of the Earth System. However, there are still open questions about how the climate has changed since the end of the ice-age around 12,000 years ago. One climate change hotspot in this context is the Sahara which was, until around 5,000 years ago an area of vegetation and wetlands known as the Green Sahara.  The Sahara has also greened in earlier times with mostly rapid transitions between states. Climate models used to project future are largely unable to capture these natural transitions. In this project you will use recent developments in palaeoclimate modelling to better understand the drivers and spatial extent of these events with a particular emphasis on the potentially abrupt nature of these climate transitions.


University of Birmingham


  • Climate and Environmental Sustainability


Project investigator

Dr. Peter Hopcroft, University of Birmingham ([email protected])


How to apply


In this project the candidate will make use of existing state-of-the-art climate model simulations performed at the University of Birmingham along with existing and new global datasets on climate change from geological archives. These simulations could be extended to include water isotopes which allow a more detailed comparison with geological archives for example. There is also an opportunity to run new simulations to address resolution or transient responses or to work with the state-of-the-art UK Earth System model.

Training and skills

Students will be awarded CENTA2 Training Credits (CTCs) for participation in CENTA2-provided and ‘free choice’ external training.  One CTC equates to 1⁄2 day session and students must accrue 100 CTCs across the three years of their PhD.

During this project the student will receive training in analysing and evaluating climate change simulations and in the needed computer programming skills. Prior experience of computing or coding would be helpful but is not necessary. The project would ideally suit physics, maths, engineering, geography, environmental sciences or meteorology graduates.

Partners and collaboration

In this project you will join a new project team recently funded by UKRI to look at past Greenings of the Sahara, including supervisors and other researchers at the University of Southampton.

Further details

Please contact Dr Peter Hopcroft ([email protected]) for any enquiries about this project.

If you wish to apply to the project, applications should include:

  • A CV with the names of at least two referees (preferably three and who can comment on your academic abilities)
  • Submit your application and complete the host institution application process via: and go to Apply Now in the PhD Geography and Environmental Science (CENTA) section. Please quote CENTA23_B10 when completing the application form.

Applications to be received by the end of the day on Wednesday 11th January 2023. 

Additional information for international applicants

  • All international applicants must ensure they can fulfil the University of Birmingham’s international student entry requirements, which includes English language requirements.  For further information please visit
  • Please be aware that CENTA funding will only cover University fees at the level of support for Home-fee eligible students.  The University is only able to waive the difference on the international fee level for a maximum of two successful international applicants.

Further reading

P.O. Hopcroft and P.J. Valdes. Palaeoclimate-conditioning reveals a North Africa land-atmosphere tipping point, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in press, doi: 10.1073/pnas.2108783118, 2021.


The project is very resilient to pandemic restrictions as much of it could be done remotely through access to the University of Birmingham’s state-of-the-art high-performance computing facility BEAR.