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Glaciers and ice sheets: pressurized nutrient bioreactors for the oceans

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Thursday, January 31, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

This project is part of the ONE Planet DTP. Find out more here:

Subglacial water outflowing from under glaciers and ice sheets can be an important source of otherwise limiting nutrients such as P, Si and Fe for supporting productivity and CO2 drawdown in marine ecosystems (Death et al., 2014 Biogeosciences, 11, 2635-2643). To date, the fluxes and controls on nutrient production and export from ice sheets and their interactions with climate are poorly constrained over glacial cycles. A University of Bristol/Newcastle University grant (‘CRUSH2LIFE’, 2018-2021, NERC, £720K) is studying how ‘mechanochemical’ reactions (physical breaking of mineral bonds during rock crushing and subsequent free radical reactions; Telling et al., 2015, Nature 8, 851–855) can support subglacial microbial activity and promote nutrient cycling beneath glaciers and ice sheets. A PhD student is urgently required to work alongside this high profile project and study how pressure controls the rates and products of subglacial mechanochemical/ biogeochemical reactions and their impact on ecosystem dynamics and nutrient supply. The Antarctic ice sheet bed can be pressurized to over 400 atmospheres, with the expectation of significant effects on microbial reactions and mechanochemical reactions. A key Project Partner is the US Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Access (SALSA) team, with collaboration with a drilling campaign into subglacial Lake Mercer this winter ( giving a unique ‘window’ into sub ice sheet biogeochemistry under Antarctica. Samples will be available from Lake Mercer and a range of other previously sampled subglacial environments.
The PhD student will gain skills in state-of-the-art low temperature/high pressure experimentation, analytical geochemistry techniques (including ion chromatography, gas chromatography, ICP-OES), next generating sequencing, metagenomics/bioinformatics, and geochemical modelling. The student will also gain experience of working as part of a larger multidisciplinary team.

Funding Notes

We have a minimum of 12 (3.5 year) PhD fully funded studentship awards available for entry September 2019. Each award includes fees (Home/EU), an annual living allowance (£14,777) and a Research Training Support Grant (for travel, consumables, as required).

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