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EPSRC DTP studentship: Development of a Wireless Sensor for Measuring Water Storage in Glaciers

   Cardiff School of Earth and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr E Bagshaw, Dr Mike Prior-Jones, Dr A Mason-Jones, Dr Jonathan Lees  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Project description:

Measuring the transit of meltwater through glaciers is critical for predicting their future behaviour as the climate warms. Increased surface melt has the potential to increase ice flow and hence glacier wasting. However, the passage of water from surface to the subsurface is complex and hence the capacity of the drainage system to store water is not well known. This project will develop a sensor for entering the glacier drainage system to measure how much water is stored in ‘moulins’. Moulins are conduits that transport surface meltwater to the glacier bed, from where it flows through a subglacial drainage network and on out to sea. It was assumed that moulins essentially functioned as a direct pipe, moving water rapidly from one area to another. Recent research, including in person exploration, has demonstrated that moulins are complex flow pathways which can store significant quantities of water. This has important implications for understanding how glaciers will respond to climate warming. We need to know how much water is stored in moulins, how long it has been resident, and how connected it is to the subglacial environment throughout the melt season. Moulins are, however, extremely challenging to explore: filled with turbulent, fast-flowing water that fluctuates hourly and frequently freezes, the technological demands of collecting the required data are extreme. Sensors must enter the moulin, survive turbulent meltwater and return data to the surface at high temporal frequency without requiring a cabled connection.

The student will design, model, test and deploy an autonomous platform for measuring the quantity and quality of water stored within moulins. The wireless sensor platform will enter the moulin and measure oxygen in the water to determine the degree of contact with the atmosphere (low oxygen = long storage), along with water volume fluctuations (pressure) and conductivity to assess whether water is stored in contact with ice or the glacier bed. Combined on a free-moving wireless platform, these measurements can demonstrate water storage dynamics. The student will also design, test and deploy an autonomous system for salt dilution gauging, to estimate the volume of water passing through the system, giving further insight into the connection between supraglacial and englacial hydrological conditions. Introducing sensors and systems to the moulin environment is potentially high risk, therefore we seek a motivated engineer who can address the multiple challenges and enable collection of critical environmental data.

The student will be embedded in a dynamic, cross-disciplinary research team combining expertise in environmental science and engineering. They will use and develop their skills in mechanical design, data transmission and management to create and deploy an instrument for use in glacier moulins. The student will use methods in laboratory simulation, computational modelling, model validation and field deployment. The development of this diverse skillset will equip students to solve real-world engineering problems, with particular relevance to addressing climate challenges. The ability to deliver a design project from concept to tested field instrument is exciting, and gives the student true ownership of the project.

The studentship may offer opportunities for polar and high altitude fieldwork, to enable the student to test their prototypes in a challenging field environment. The student will have the opportunity to work with a wide network of collaborators, including NASA/JPL, who will assist with instrument deployment. The cross-disciplinary nature of the project will give access to multiple research groups and their support networks. This gives access to a broad network of future employers in both academia and industry. They will have access to desk space and peers in both EARTH and ENGIN, with dedicated research support staff in both Schools. They have access to a mentor in EARTH and a postgraduate tutor in ENGIN. They will also have access to a wide range of training courses through the Doctoral Academy and receive specialised training from the supervisory team. 


EPSRC studentships are available to home and international students. International students will not be charged the fee difference between the UK and international rate. Applicants should satisfy the UKRI eligibility requirements. 

Cardiff University is committed to supporting and promoting equality and diversity and to creating an inclusive environment for all. We welcome applications from all members of the global community irrespective of age, disability, sex, gender identity, gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation.

We welcome applications for both full and part-time study and from candidates with non-traditional academic backgrounds. For further information about modes of study, please contact us. 

How to apply

In order to be accepted you would need to have a first-class or 2:1 BSc, MSci or relevant MSc degree in Engineering, Earth Sciences or related disciplines. International students require a relevant degree in the subject area and evidence of an English Language qualification. Further information on the English Language can be found here:

In order to formally apply for the PhD you will need to go to the following web page:

In the black box on the right of the page please select the following options:

·Doctor of Philosophy

·Full Time/Part Time

·1st October 2022

Click on ‘Apply now’.

Please ensure that you include the Project Title (Development of a Wireless Sensor for Measuring Water Storage in Glaciers), supervisor (Elizabeth Bagshaw) and that you add ‘EPSRC DTP' under the source of funding.

The Applicant Deadline is: 5th September 2022.

Applicants are reminded to submit documents by the deadline. Due to the volume of applications received, incomplete applications will not be considered.

It is expected that short-listed applicants will be invited to interview in September 2022, and interviews will be held online.

Funding Notes

EPSRC studentships are available to home and international students. International students will not be charged the fee difference between the UK and international rate. The studentship is for 3.5 years and covers tuition fees, an annual tax-free living stipend of £16,062 (subject to change) and includes access to a Research Training Support Grant (currently £4000).
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