Unlocking Western Tropical Indian Ocean temperature and hydroclimate back to the Little Ice Age and the Holocene, reconstructed from coral geochemistry

Qualification: PhD

Department: Geology

Application deadline: 21st November 2019

Start date: 28th September 2020



Professor Jens Zinke adn Dr Arnoud Boom

Project Description

Indian Ocean sea surface temperatures (SST) play an important role in determining the location of precipitation over the tropics and the Indian Monsoon regions. Future global warming on land and ocean is thought to increase the land-ocean temperature gradient driving Indian Ocean circulation, leading to droughts or floods in adjacent biodiversity hotspots in Africa. Indian Ocean SST, precipitation and circulation anomalies also show a remote response to El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events originating in the tropical Pacific. Atmospheric and oceanic teleconnections between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific are thought to vary on interannual to multidecadal time scales. A better knowledge of past SST and hydroclimate variability over the Indian Ocean and their interaction with the tropical Pacific over long time scales is needed to characterize natural climate variability. Such information is crucial in addressing the effects of anthropogenic climate change in light of such natural forcing factors.

Therefore, the aim of this project is to produce several centuries long climate records from and nearby Madagascar with bimonthly temporal resolution in order to unravel natural changes in the teleconnectivity with the tropical Pacific (abundant ENSO archives). Coral records dating back several centuries will be used for the reconstruction of past surface ocean variability under different boundary conditions, such as during the Little Ice Age (1600-1850). We therefore propose to build a 300-400 year modern climate and a Holocene (snapshots from fossil corals) data base for the western Indian Ocean biodiversity hotspot Madagascar and nearby islands through a seasonally resolved multi-proxy geochemical study of corals complimented by instrumental climate data analysis.

The coral data will be compared to terrestrial climate archives and instrumental climate data from Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar to assess past and present land-ocean climate teleconnections. Here, we collaborate with colleagues in Germany, South Africa and the USA who simultaneously work on tree ring, speleothem and lake level records. Furthermore, the paleoclimate data will be assessed in the context of newly discovered archaeological sites in Madagascar to shed light on the influence of climate variability and early human impact on megafaunal extinctions in Madagascar since the Little Ice Age.


1. Zinke, J., Loveday, B., Reason, C., Dullo, W.-C., Kroon, D. (2014) Madagascar corals track sea surface temperature variability in the Agulhas Current core region over the past 334 years. Scientific Reports 4, 4393; DOI:10.1038/srep04393. 

2. Zinke, J., D’Olivo, J. P., Gey, C. J., McCulloch, M. T., Bruggemann, J. H., Lough, J. M., Guillaume, M. M. M. (2019) Multi-trace element sea surface temperature coral reconstruction for the southern Mozambique Channel reveals teleconnections with the tropical Atlantic. Biogeosciences 16, 697-712.

3. Hennekam, R., Zinke, J., ten Have, M., Brummer, G.J.A. and Reichart, G.-J. (2018) ‘Cocos (Keeling) corals reveal 200 years of multi-decadal modulation of southeast Indian Ocean hydrology by Indonesian Throughflow’, Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology, 33, doi: 10.1002/2017PA003181.

4. Zinke, J., Hoell, A., Lough, J., Feng, M., Kuret, A., Clarke, H., Ricca, V., McCulloch, M.T. (2015) ‘Coral record of southeastern Indian Ocean marine heatwaves with intensified Western Pacific temperature gradient’, Nature Communications, 6, doi: 10.1038/ncomms9562.

5. Zinke, J., Timm, O., Pfeiffer, M., Dullo, W.-Chr., Kroon, D. and Thomassin, B. A. (2008) ‘Mayotte coral reveales hydrological changes in the western Indian between 1865 to 1994’, Geophysical Research Letters, 35, L23707, doi:10.1029/2008GL035634.



UK/EU applicants

This research project is eligible for a fully funded College of Science and Engineering studentship which includes:

A full UK/EU fee waiver for 3.5 years
An annual tax free stipend (For 2019/20 this is currently £15,009)
Research Training Support Grant (RTSG)

International Applicants

This project is eligible for a partially funded College of Science and Engineering studentship which includes:

A full UK/EU fee waiver for 3.5 years (applicants will need to provide evidence they can fund the difference between the UK/EU fee and International fee for the duration of their studies)
An annual tax free stipend of £15,009 (2019/20)
Research Training Support Grant (RTSG)

Entry requirements

Entry requirements

Applicants are required to hold/or expect to obtain a UK Bachelor Degree 2:1 or better in a relevant subject or overseas equivalent.
The University of Leicester English language requirements apply where applicable

Informal enquiries

Informal enquiries

Project/Funding Enquiries: csepgr@le.ac.uk

Application enquiries to: pgradmissions@le.ac.uk 

How to apply

How to apply

Please use the Apply button at the bottom of the page.

Select September 2020 entry.

Application Notes

We recommend you apply as early as possible so that any missing information can be obtained before the deadline.

In the funding section of the form state CSE2020 Zinke Studentship

In the research proposal section include the name of the supervisors and project title.  If you are applying for more than one project within Geology include details of each project.

In the personal statement section upload your completed CSE Studentship Form.  If you are applying for more than one Geology project complete a form for each project and email the additional forms to csepgr@le.ac.uk together with your application ID number.  If you are applying for projects in other subject areas please submit separate PhD applications online.

Upload a copy of your CV, copies of your degree certificates and transcripts if awarded and evidence of English language proficiency if applicable and available.

If you already have reference letters please upload these. If not enter the contact details of your referees in the reference section. Please ask your referees if they can submit their references as quickly as possible, ideally within two weeks of receipt of our reference request.

Application timetable

21st November Deadline for applications and all supporting documents 
9th December Interview invitations to be sent out by email
w/c 13th January 2020 Interviews
21st January 2020 Informal offers to be made
31st January 2020 Deadline for acceptable of informal offers 

The PGR Admissions Office will notify unsuccessful applicants once a decision has been made



UK/EU Applicants

International applicants who can demonstrate they can fund the difference between UK/EU and International fees