PhD: Rainstorm-scale predictions of climate impacts on the water balance in East African drylands via FindAPhD

University of Bristol

Bristol, UK 🇬🇧

About the Project

Climate change presents great challenges for dryland regions, especially in communities where socioeconomic livelihoods are tied to the consistency of seasonal rainfall such as in the dryland regions of East Africa. A key climatic feature of drylands is short-duration precipitation extremes and high spatio- temporal variability of storms. However, most dryland regions around the world tend to have sparse precipitation gauge data, so coarse-resolution (daily, weekly, or monthly) gridded datasets are used even though they may not preserve the storm characteristics during individual events. The temporal resolution of rainfall has been shown to significantly impact predicted soil moisture in drylands (Kipkemoi et al., 2021). Additionally, climate models used to assess future changes in rainfall are also typically coarse resolution (10-100km) and unable to capture short-duration rainfall characteristics. This disconnect between the resolution of available rainfall data and the characteristics of dryland precipitation, therefore, creates challenges in predicting climate impacts on regional water and food security in drought-prone drylands.

Project Aims and Methods

‘Convection-permitting’ models, commonly used in weather forecasting, are a recent innovation used to better represent land-surface characteristics and short-duration precipitation extremes (Kendon et al 2021). Over Africa, 10-year simulations at 4.5-km grid spacing (CP4-Africa) for current climate and a future period were recently carried out, showing considerable improvements in the representation of hourly rainfall characteristics compared to a coarser climate model (Kendon et al 2019). This PhD project will, for the first time, couple output from CP4-Africa with DRYP, a dryland hydrological model (Quichimbo et al., 2021) applied over East Africa. This model coupling will bring new insights into current and future impacts of climate on rural communities in a uniquely vulnerable region. Additionally, this PhD will have access and use of sub-hourly (15-min) rainfall data from the CP4-Africa – the only data of its kind – to further examine the impacts of high-resolution rainfall data in predictions of water fluxes and stores within drylands. We will co-design the project with the candidate, but topical tasks may include: Compare CP4-Africa rainfall characteristics against gridded rainfall products and rain gauge data; and use CP4-Africa rainfall to drive DRYP and examine impacts to water security for present and future climates; and much more!

Candidate requirements

Candidate should have a background in climatology, hydrology or any other cognate discipline. Willingness to learn mathematical modelling is fundamental and some coding experience (e.g. Matlab, Python) is desirable, but training will be provided. Some experience in analysing large datasets is highly desirable. Interest in climate impacts, water resources, and/or dryland environments is welcome. We welcome and encourage student applications from under-represented groups. We value a diverse research environment.

Project partners

This project is a CASE studentship in partnership with the Met Office. The student will be co-supervised by Prof Kendon and Dr Furtado. Prof Kendon leads high resolution climate modelling at the Met Office Hadley Centre, and has played a leading role in the set up and analysis of the CP4A simulations. The student will be part of a new Bristol-Met Office Academic Partnership and will be invited to undertake an extended research placement at the Met Office for 3-8 months, where they will actively engage with the high- resolution modelling teams. The Met Office will cover the costs of this visit and provide an additional £1000 per year contribution to the Research & Training Support Grant. The student will also be embedded within a 4-year EU H2020 project “DOWN2EARTH” ( benefitting from being part of a large, multidisciplinary team involving academic and non-academic partners from the UK, EU and East Africa. The student will have opportunities to travel to East Africa and take part in numerous meetings.


The team will provide training opportunities in any aspect needed. This includes climatological analysis, hydrological analysis, numerical modelling, coding. The student will have opportunities to travel to East Africa and take part in numerous workshops and interdisciplinary meetings both in the UK and abroad.


[1] Kendon EJ et al. (2021) Challenges and outlook for convection-permitting climate modelling. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A
[2] Kendon EJ et al. (2019) Enhanced future changes in wet and dry extremes over Africa at convection-permitting scale. Nat Comms. doi:10.1038/s41467-019-09776-9
[3] Kipkemoi, I. et al. (2021) Climatic expression of rainfall on soil moisture dynamics in drylands, Hyd & Earth Sys Sci – Discussion
[4] Quichimbo, EA, et al. (2021) DRYP 1.0: A parsimonious hydrological model of DRYland Partitioning of the water balance. Geo Mod Dev – Discussion