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Meltwater Ice-Sheet interactions and the changing climate of Greenland

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Saturday, February 29, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) is shrinking as Earth’s climate warms. In fact, meltwater which runs off the ice sheet is expected to contribute ~10 cm to global sea level by 2100. This would double the number of people currently experiencing flooding, potentially causing the loss of lives and livelihoods worldwide. In addition to this direct impact, on its journey out to sea, the meltwater runoff is implicated in a range of processes which also contribute to ice loss (known as feedbacks). Importantly, this includes surface meltwater which is routed via surface, englacial and subglacial hydrological networks underneath the ice sheet where it can lubricate ice flow. Because of the complicated processes and feedbacks involved, it is not yet clear whether this will lead to a sustained speed-up and exacerbated ice loss, however our previous research has shown that surface meltwater will reach larger and larger areas of the sub-ice sheet environment in the future (Leeson et al., Nature Climate Change, 2015).

At present, future GrIS changes (e.g. estimates of sea level contribution which feature in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - IPCC - assessment reports) are predicted using ice sheet models which do not fully account for these feedback processes. In the MII-Greenland project we are developing a new, robust, coupled hydrology/ice-sheet model in order to address this.

We are looking for a PhD student to join the MII-Greenland team. Whilst we have already identified a potential line of enquiry, we are also happy to work with the skills and interests of the successful applicant to develop an alternative research topic, under the auspices of the main project.

1. To use satellite remote sensing to understand how the characteristics of Greenland’s supraglacial hydrological network change in extreme high (e.g. 2012) and extreme low (e.g. 2017) melt years. For example do we see significant differences in the location and timing of meltwater delivery to the bed e.g. through draining supraglacial lakes?

2. To use the coupled hydrology/dynamical model developed in MII Greenland to investigate the impact that extreme high/low met years have on ice dynamics. This would be a quantitative assessment of both short and long term effects, i.e. transient speed-up events caused by rapid lake drainages vs. compensating slow-down periods as a result of efficient subglacial drainage.

3 Explore the implications of (2) under a future, warmer, climate, for example by performing forward simulations using the model under a range of IPCC warming scenarios, and a range of potential future ice thicknesses.

The student will be jointly supervised by Dr Amber Leeson at Lancaster University and Dr Alison Banwell at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. There will be the opportunity to pay a short research visit to Boulder to work directly with Dr Banwell as well as opportunities to contribute to MII-Greenland project meetings and present research at conferences.

Funding Notes

Full studentships UK/EU tuition fees and stipend of £15,009 (2019/20 rate) for 3.5 years for UK/EU students subject to eligibility criteria. Unfortunately, studentships are not available to non-UK/EU applicants.

Whilst we have already identified a potential line of enquiry detailed below, we are also happy to work with the skills and interests of the successful applicant to develop an alternative research topic, under the auspices of the main project.

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