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Modelling wave-induced sea ice breakup on small and large scales

Department of Mathematics and Statistics

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Dr Fabien Montiel Applications accepted all year round Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Sea ice is a key component of the climate system, which is experiencing significant changes as a consequence of global warming. The rapidly decreasing sea ice extent in the Arctic Ocean means solar radiations are increasingly being absorbed into the ocean, causing further melting and weakening of the sea ice cover. In recent years ocean waves have also been observed to fracture the sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic, forming large regions of broken ice floes, the so-called marginal ice zone. Despite a significant international effort to model the interactions between ocean waves and sea ice in the marginal ice, the physical mechanisms governing these interactions are still poorly understood.

We are looking for a suitable PhD student to investigate the physical mechanisms governing sea ice breakup under wave action in the marginal ice zone. The project will involve developing a small-scale model of ocean waves breaking up a small number of ice floes with various shapes and sizes. The model will combine fracture mechanics and wave hydrodynamics. Field and laboratory data collected in recent experimental programmes will be used to validate the model. Outputs of the model will be processed to create a parametrised formulation describing wave-induced sea ice breakup that will be integrated in a coupled large scale ocean waves/sea ice model.


The successful candidate will be supervised by Dr Fabien Montiel ( as part of the 3-year project "Breaking the ice: process-informed modelling of sea ice erosion due to ocean wave interactions" funded by a prestigious NZ Marsden grant, which involves collaborations with colleagues in the US and Europe. The student will be part of the vibrant NZ community of early-career polar scientists and will have many opportunities to interact with the broader international communities during conferences and research visits.

The project is ideally suited for someone with interests in mathematical modelling, physical oceanography, polar science and climate modelling. A strong background in mathematics and physics, as well as computing skills, are essential. Prior knowledge in fluid mechanics, elasticity and/or water wave theory will be an advantage, but are not essential. Both New Zealand and international students are encouraged to apply.


If you are interested in working with Fabien Montiel on this cutting-edge science project and being part of a very active international sea ice community, then please get in touch by sending your CV, transcripts of undergraduate and Masters studies, the names and contact details of 2 references.

Funding Notes

The successful candidate will be funded by a competitive University of Otago PhD scholarship, which includes a 3-year stipend of NZ$ 27,500 per year (tax free and includes a fee waiver), research costs, and travel support to national and international conferences. Additional funding for travel will be available through the supervisor's Marsden grant.


Montiel, F., Squire, V.A., Doble, M., Thomson,J., Wadhams, P. (2018). Attenuation and directional spreading of ocean waves during a storm event in the autumn Beaufort Sea marginal ice zone. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, DOI:10.1029/2018JC013763.

Montiel, F. and Squire, V.A. (2017). Modelling wave-induced ice breakup in the marginal ice zone. Proceedings of the Royal Society A, 473, 20170258, DOI:10.1098/rspa.2017.0258.

Montiel, F., Squire, V.A. and Bennetts, L.G. (2016). Attenuation and directional spreading of ocean waves in the marginal ice zone. Journal of Fluid Mechanics, 790, 492–522. DOI:
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