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OP2307 Modelling Thwaites glacier, Antarctica, and assessing recent and future tipping points

   Department of Geography & Environmental Sciences

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  Prof Hilmar Gudmundsson  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project


Thwaites glacier is a major glacier of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. As most glaciers worldwide, the glacier is currently retreating, loosing mass, and actively contributing to global sea level rise. The glacier is of particular interest to the scientific community because theoretical and numerical modelling work suggests that Thwaites glacier may enter a tipping point in the near future whereby the glacier undergoes irreversible retreat. Should this happen, rates of sea level rise would increase sharply and the total contribution of the glacier so sea level change could be measured in meters. New data on the bathymetry in front of the current grounding line of Thwaites and modelling of the impacts of the ice shelf on upstream flow, has now raised the possibility that the Thwaites may recently have gone through an unstable phase of retreat.

In this project you will use numerical ice-flow models and remote sensing data to assess the possibility of recent tipping-point behaviour of Thwaites glacier. You will use state-of-the art ice-flow model and data assimilation methods to investigate the causes of recent retreat, investigate the stability regime of the glacier and possible irreversibility. The project links to a number of ongoing international research projects at Northumbria University, such as the EU H2020 project Tipping Points in Antarctic Climate Components https://www.tipaccs.eu/) and the NSF-NERC funded project Processes, Drivers, Prediction: Modeling the History and Evolution of Thwaites.

You will be working on a highly societal relevant question related to current and future global sea level rise and interacting with a number of international groups working on a similar and complementary research questions. You will be working with the glaciology group at Northumbria University, and within the Future of Ice on Earth Peak of Excellence.

Key Research Gaps and Questions:

The general objective is to advance knowledge about tipping points and irreversibility of the recent and near-future behaviour of Thwaites Glacier, Antarctica.

Specifically, the aim is to determine the drivers of the current retreat phase of Thwaites Glacier, Antarctica using ice-flow modelling. Are those drivers external, i.e. related to changes in ocean or atmospheric conditions, or are the drivers internal, i.e. due to unstable retreat behaviour?


A degree in physics, mathematics or related disciplines is required. Good programming skills are of advantage. For more information, please contact Prof Hilmar Gudmundsson ([Email Address Removed]).

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