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Antarctica before ice sheets: polar climate history of past greenhouse worlds.

Project Description

During the extremely warm global ’greenhouse’ period 50 million years ago, Antarctica was mostly ice free and hosted temperate forests in coastal regions of the continent. Subsequent cooling over many millions of years resulted in a steady deterioration of Antarctic climate, eventually culminating in widespread glaciation approximately 34 million years ago. The degree of climate variability prior to ice-sheet development and possible existence of glaciers, or even small ice sheets, during greenhouse intervals are intensely debated. Recent studies support glacial activity in the lead up to major glaciation [1, 2], but, controversially, more substantial ice cover in East Antarctica during earlier (and warmer) time intervals has also been interpreted [3].

The primary aim of this project is to document Antarctic climate behavior during ‘greenhouse’ periods of the past 50 million years in the lead-up to large-scale ice-sheet development. Fundamental questions need to be answered about both long- and short-term Antarctic climate variability in time intervals with higher-than-present CO2 levels. Were there phases of cooling and extensive ice accumulation in Antarctica during hypothesized warm ‘greenhouse’ periods? If so, did small ice sheets or coastal glaciers persist for long periods of time or were they ephemeral?

Funding Notes

You can apply for fully-funded studentships (stipend and fees) from INSPIRE if you:
Are a UK or EU national.
Have no restrictions on how long you can stay in the UK.
Have been 'ordinarily resident' in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the project.

Please click View Website for more information on eligibility and how to apply


[1] Carter, A., Riley, T.R., Hillenbrand, C.-D., and Rittner, M., 2017. Widespread Antarctic glaciation during the Late Eocene. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 458: 49–57, doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2016.10.045.

[2] Passchier, S., Ciarletta, D.J., Miriagos, T.E., Bijl, P.K., and Bohaty, S.M., 2016. An Antarctic stratigraphic record of step-wise ice growth through the Eocene-Oligocene transition. GSA Bulletin, doi: 10.1130/B31482.1.

[3] Gulick, S.P.S., Shevenell, A.E., Montelli, A., Fernandez, R., Smith, C., Warny, S., Bohaty, S.M., Sjunneskog, C., Leventer, A., Frederick, B., and Blankenship, D.D., 2017. Initiation and long-term instability of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Nature, 552: 225-229, doi:10.1038/nature25026.

How good is research at University of Southampton in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 68.62

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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