MSc Data Assimilation and Inverse Methods in Geoscience

Course aims

The MSc aims to provide a foundation of the theory and techniques of data assimilation as applied to the atmosphere, ocean, land surface, the cryosphere, hydrology, including groundwater and flooding, traffic modelling and for geophysical applications, including the oil and gas sector. It also provides practical experience in the applications of data assimilation in these areas. You will acquire the knowledge and technical skills to equip you to carry out quantitative scientific research and technical projects in the area you specialize in.

Course content

The programme consists of two terms of taught modules, together with a dissertation that comes from guided research in the summer term. The modules consist of a core of compulsory subjects that deal with fundamental and applications of data assimilation and data analysis. About 30% of the modules is optional and allow for specialization in the application area of interest. It is expected that many of the guided projects will involve users of data assimilation in industry and government. Teaching is by lectures, computer practicals and guided reading. Assessment is by examination in the vacations following the term in which the course is taught, and all assessed modules contribute to the final mark. Full details can be found in the course module table.

Transferable Skills

The course will provide a range of transferable skills in computing and in communication and research skills, including:

  • Presentation skills (written and oral)
  • Teamworking
  • Statistical methods for analysis and interpretation of data
  • Solving numerical problems related to environmental science
  • Reviewing and synthesizing information in a specific field of interest
  • Practical measurement skills

Part-Time/Modular arrangements

This course can be taken part-time over a period of two years.

Entry Requirements

Prior knowledge of the applications areas is not necessary. A First or Upper Second Class degree in Mathematics, or in a closely related subject joint with mathematics, or in a physical or environmental science with a strong mathematical content is required.

Career Prospects

The largest group of practitioners of data assimilation are currently in the oil and gas industry, but the use of data assimilation in environmental sciences, including meteorology, oceanography and hydrology, is increasing rapidly. A large range of careers is thus open, including: research and geophysics posts in the oil and gas sector research and forecasting posts in national meteorological and environmental sciences research and technical posts in other environmental science institutes in the UK and internationally (eg MeteoFrance, NOAA, Australian Bureau of Meteorology) research and technical posts in space agencies (eg ESA, NASA, JAXA)


There are currently no other MScs in Data Assimilation internationally. The University of Maryland has indicated that they wish to recruit Masters students from the USA to this Reading MSc as part of their NOAA Cooperative Agreement, with students doing their projects in NOAA. There are MScs in Control Systems, which has some mathematics in common, such as at Imperial College, but these are largely aimed at electrical engineers and do not have the same target market. Some universities include optional modules on related mathematical techniques in petroleum engineering masters (eg Herriot-Watt, Imperial), but these are introductory and not aimed at the same market.

Evidence of Demand

The Space Studies Board of the US National Research Council, in a study of manpower in the space sector, noted a shortage of trained personnel in this area internationally, as part of a study showing that 50% of the space sector in the US will change in the next ten years for demographic reasons. The Society of Petroleum Engineers has made a similar study of the oil and gas sector, with similar conclusions. Several recent studies, eg by the European Space Agency, have highlighted the importance of this area.


Formal offers will be issued by the Postgraduate Office, Faculty of Science. The offer may be conditional on meeting certain requirements such as standard of degree (for those who have yet to graduate), funding and English proficiency.


All students will be initially registered for MSc/Diploma. They will be allocated to either the MSc or Diploma on the basis of their performance in examinations and course-assessed work prior to the Summer Term.

For a full description of the degree course please download MSc/Dip Data Assimilation and Inverse Methods in Geoscience

For a full description of the degree course please download MSc in Data Assimilation and Inverse Methods in Geoscience

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