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Carbon drawdown on debris-covered glaciers (Advert Reference: RDF19/EE/GES/BROCK)

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  • Full or part time
    Prof B Brock
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

This project aims to quantify the magnitude, variability and controls on fluxes of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), in supraglacial debris covers. The key output will be a robust estimate of the role of debris-covered glaciers in regional and global cycling of these important greenhouse gases. The worldwide significance of carbon and methane cycling in subglacial environments is well established, however, the magnitude and variability of similar processes at the surface of debris-covered glaciers is unknown. Supraglacial debris provide an ideal environment for high rates of microbial activity and chemical weathering: an abundance of fresh mechanically weathered rock, an unlimited supply of water and high levels of energy provided by sun and atmosphere. Initial gas flux measurements over an alpine glacier have identified very high CO2 drawdown rates. Debris-covered glaciers could therefore be important global sinks of carbon due to the extensive areas of debris-covered ice in the world’s mountain ranges. Data will be collected through fieldwork on debris-covered glaciers in the Italian Alps (Year 1) and Svalbard (Year 2), involving i) direct measurements of CO2 and CH4 fluxes using an eddy-covariance system and portable greenhouse gas analyser and ii) measurements and sampling of debris sediments for analysis. Follow-up laboratory work will determine the minerals, carbon content and microbial communities present in debris covers to determine the relative roles of chemical weathering and microbial activity in carbon gas cycling. Training will be provided in field and laboratory techniques, and there is potential for the student to develop new methods to simulate rock debris chemical weathering in a laboratory. Project supervision will be provided by staff at Northumbria University together with the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), with the opportunity for the student to spend an extended period learning techniques and undertaking analysis at UNIS.

Applicants should have a minimum of a strong first degree (upper second or first class honours) in one of the following areas Physical Geography, Geology, Environmental Sciences, Earth Sciences or Atmospheric Sciences and be prepared to undertake fieldwork in glacial environments. Some previous fieldwork experience in cold environments would be preferable, but not essential.
The principal supervisor for this project is Benjamin Brock.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:
• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
• Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF19/EE/GES/BROCK) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: Friday 25 January 2019
Start Date: 1 October 2019

Northumbria University is an equal opportunities provider and in welcoming applications for studentships from all sectors of the community we strongly encourage applications from women and under-represented groups.

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to Students Worldwide, and covers full fees and a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2018/19, this is £14,777 pa).


Hodson, A.J., Bowak, A., Sabacka, M., Jungblut, A., Navarro, F., Pearce, D.A., Ávila-Jiménez, M., Convey, P., Vieira, G. (2017) Climatically-sensitive transfer of iron to maritime Antarctic ecosystems by surface runoff, Nature Communications 8, 14499.

Shaw TE, Brock BW, Ayala A, Rutter N and Pellicciotti F. 2017. Centreline and cross-glacier air temperature variability on an Alpine glacier: assessing temperature distribution methods and their influence on melt model calculations. Journal of Glaciology, doi: 10.1017/jog.2017.65

Bravo C, Loriaux T, Rivera A and Brock BW (2017) Assessing glacier contribution to streamflow at Universidad Glacier, central Andes of Chile. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 21, 3249-3266, doi:10.5194/hess-21-3249-3266.

Upstill-Goddard R, Salter M, Mann P, Barnes J, Poulsen J, Dinga B. (2017) The riverine source of CH4 and N2O from the Republic of
Congo, western Congo Basin. Biogeosciences, 14, 2267-2281.

Stubbins A, Mann PG, Powers L, Bittar TB, Dittmar T, McIntyre CP (2017) Low photolability of yedoma permafrost dissolved organic carbon, Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 122 (1), 200-211.

Carenzo M, Pellicciotti F, Mabillard J, Reid T and Brock BW (2016) An enhanced temperature index model for debris covered glaciers accounting for thickness effect. Advances in Water Resources, 94, 457-469, doi: 10.1016/j.advwatres.2016.05.001.

Shaw TE, Brock BW, Fyffe CL, Pellicciotti F, Rutter N and Diotri F (2016) Air temperature distribution and energy-balance modelling of a debris-covered glacier. Journal of Glaciology, 62(231), 185-198, doi:10.1017//jog.2016.31.

Hodson A, Brock BW, Pearce D, Laybourn-Parry J and Tranter M (2015) Cryospheric ecosystems: a synthesis of snowpack and glacial research Environmental Research Letters, 10, 110201, doi:10.1088/1748-9326/10/11/110201 IF 4.134, JR 23/221 Environ. Sciences.

Schauwecker S, Rohrer M, Huggel C, Kulkarni A, Ramanathan A, Salzmann N, Stoffel M, Thayyen R and Brock BW (2015) Remotely sensed debris thickness mapping of Bara Shigri Glacier, Indian Himalaya. Journal of Glaciology, 61(228), 675-688, doi: 10.3189/2015JoG14J102.

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