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Change in the ice speed and mass balance of the Antarctic Ice Sheet, from Earth Observation satellite data

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, January 06, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Satellite Earth Observation has revolutionized our understanding of the remote and inaccessible Polar Regions. Without this critical resource we would have a far less complete understanding of which regions are changing, the timing and pace at which events occur, and what physical mechanisms are responsible for driving change. In Antarctica, satellite data has been vital for revealing the continent-wide spatial pattern of ice flow; for uncovering dynamic imbalance and the associated large sea level contribution of the marine-based West Antarctic Ice Sheet; for mapping the seasonal growth and decay of sea ice extent; and for measuring the size and recovery of the Ozone hole. During the last 30-years, individual ice streams in Antarctica such as Pine Island Glacier, have increased in speed by over 42% since the early 1990’s, and are now known to be dynamically imbalanced. However, despite a clear long-term trend for increasing ice velocity in many regions, the observed speed up has not been constant through time, and multiple years with no significant change have also been observed. It is necessary to make present day measurements of ice velocity to provide an independent means of measuring ice mass loss from the most rapidly changing regions of this vast ice sheet.
This project offers an exciting opportunity to work at the interface of climate and space science, making an important contribution to international efforts to study the effects and impact of climate change. This PhD student will gain a detailed technical understanding of how to process Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data from a large number of Earth Observation satellites, including ERS-1/2, TerraSAR-X, Sentinel-1, using multiple processing techniques, such as interferometry (InSAR) & feature tracking, to make measurements of ice speed. The measurements of ice speed will be used in combination with bed and ice surface topography to compute the ice flux, and then mass balance, of individual glaciers on the Antarctic Ice Sheet. The ice speed measurements will be analysed to detect change in speed over time, and this will be combined with complimentary observations, such as the calving front location and ice thinning, to advance our understanding of the physical mechanisms driving change. These results will be used to improve and extend the ice sheet contribution to present-day sea-level rise, a topic of wide societal importance, and will enable us to better predict how the ice sheet will change in the future.
The student will lead at least three journal papers on these important science topics during the course of their PhD, and may have the possibility of undertaking a Polar field campaign. The PhD will be based in the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, and you will therefore have valuable opportunities to work closely with both the European and German Space Agencies (ESA & DLR) through research projects that are already funded. As such, the student will engage with a wide range of international scientific collaborators. The successful applicant will have access to a broad spectrum of specialist training in Earth Observation and glaciology, in addition to the extensive University of Leeds workshops on a range of topics, including scientific programming through to managing your degree. Applicants will hold good first degree (first or high 2.1) or Masters degree in physics, maths, Earth science, climate science, Earth observation or a related discipline. Expertise in computer programming, while not required, will be a valuable asset.

Second supervisor on this PhD studentship is Dr Malcolm McMillan based at the University of Lancaster.

Funding Notes

This 3.5 years NERC DTP award will provide tuition fees (£4,500 for 2019/20), tax-free stipend at the UK research council rate (£15,009 for 2019/20), and a research training and support grant of £7,000.

This student will have the opportunity to be affiliated with European Space Agency research projects.

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 79.20

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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