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 longer-term changes in the past.


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. Did the climate warm continuously as ice-sheets receded and levels of carbon dioxide rose until the onset of Industrialisation, or has there been a more complex evolution (e.g. Liu et al 2014)? What do geological records tell us about this time period and how well do climate model simulations match these reconstructions (e.g. Marsicek et al 2018; Bova et al 2021)? This project will make use of new climate model simulations to answer these questions (Hopcroft & Valdes, 2021), looking in detail at the causes of past climate change and evaluating their relevance to uncertainties around projecting future change.

CENTA Flagship

This is a CENTA Flagship Project


University of Birmingham


  • Climate and Environmental Sustainability


Project investigator



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. There is also an opportunity to run new simulations to address specific issues, or potentially to use model simulations from international modelling centres to analyse inter-model uncertainty.

Training and skills

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.

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.

Partners and collaboration

During this project you will have the chance to collaborate with partners in the international Paleoclimate Model Intercomparison Project (PMIP), as well as scientists working on new reconstructions of Holocene climate change.

Further details

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

If you wish to apply to the project please visit:

Possible timeline

Year 1

Analysis of existing model simulations (Hopcroft & Valdes, 2021) and comparisons with existing climate change reconstructions with a focus on regional changes in the hydrological cycle (e.g. Routson et al 2019).

Year 2

Potentially run new simulations to address open questions arising in the project so far. Option could include (i) using water isotope-enabled simulations for more detailed comparison with geological archives, or (ii) performing and/or analysing high-resolution simulations that better resolve storm tracks and other climatic features.

Year 3

Potentially include analysis of a larger ensemble of simulations from the planned PMIP transient intercomparison of Holocene transient simulations and compare with existing work.

Further reading

  1. Bova, Y. Rosenthal, Z. Liu, et al. Seasonal origin of the thermal maxima at the Holocene and the last interglacial. Nature, 589:548–553, 2021.

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.

  1. Liu et al. (2014). The Holocene temperature conundrum. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 111: E3501–E3505, 2014.
  2. Marsicek, B.N. Shuman, P.J. Bartlein, et al. Reconciling divergent trends and millennial variations in Holocene temperatures. Nature, 554:92–96, 2018.
  3. Routson, N.P. McKay, D.S. Kaufman et al. Mid-latitude net precipitation decreased with Arctic warming during the Holocene. Nature, 568: 83-87, 2019.


The project is very resilient to COVID-19 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.