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PhD in Environmental Science: High precision surface exposure dating

Project Description

This project will determine how fast ice caps can melt by analysing the collapse of the ice cap that existed in Scotland about 11600 years ago and disappeared at a time when temperatures rose by 8°C, the same as the temperature rise predicted for the Arctic by 2100. By measuring how quickly the ice cap disappeared we will learn how fast present day equivalent sized ice masses subjected to similar warming could disappear, thus providing data needed for sea level rise models to make more informed predictions. To quantify how fast the Scottish ice cap collapsed we need to be able to determine the rate of change of the former ice mass. We will use surface exposure dating with the cosmogenic nuclides 10Be and 26Al produced in the mineral quartz in rock by cosmic rays, that is, when the rock is exposed to the sky. Surface exposure dating is the only technique available to directly date when landforms become exposed as ice melts. We will measure the concentration of these nuclides in glacially abraded and plucked rock surfaces and glacially transported boulders, located at the maximum, intermediate and minimum extent of the ice cap. Because we know how fast the cosmogenic nuclides are produced in quartz, we can use the measured cosmogenic nuclide concentration to determine when the sampled rock surface became exposed from under the ice. In other words, we can determine when the ice disappeared from the sample site. The age difference between the maximum and minimum ice extent provides the retreat rate which will be integrated with independently dated climate proxy archives to look for causal relationships.

To be able to test the hypothesised rapid collapse of the Scottish ice cap we first need to improve the surface exposure dating technique from the current routine 2-3% to 1% or better measurement precision for 10Be and 26Al in quartz. Analytical improvements to the accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) that is currently used to measure 10Be and 26Al will allow us to resolve the rate of ice cap collapse. However, there are some questions for which AMS is unlikely to provide the necessary precision. To resolve if the decline of the ice cap was steady or episodic requires the development of an entirely new methodology for measuring 26Al by positive ion mass spectrometry (PIMS) invented and being pioneered at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC). Pushing the boundaries of conventional AMS and developing Al PIMS has the potential for leading to a paradigm shift in how Earth and Environmental scientists determine the rate of natural processes and determine the age of landforms. This newly developed, world leading analytical technique will then be applied to answer important questions on how rapid deglaciation rates can be.

All applicants need to meet NERC’s eligibility criteria to be considered for an IAPETUS studentship and these are detailed in NERC’s current studentship handbook.

IAPETUS is only able to consider applications from Home/European Union candidates. International candidates are not eligible to be considered and where a candidate from another EU country has not been resident in the UK for 3 years or more prior to the commencement of their studies with IAPETUS, they will only be eligible for a fees-only studentship.

IAPETUS is looking for candidates with the following qualities and backgrounds:

- A first or 2:1 undergraduate degree, or have relevant comparable experience;
- In addition, candidates may also hold or be completing a Masters degree in their area of proposed study or a related discipline; &
- An outstanding academic pedigree and research potential, such as evidenced through the publication of articles, participation in academic conferences and other similar activities.

Funding Notes

IAPETUS’ postgraduate studentships are tenable for between 3 and 4 years, depending on the doctoral research project the student is studying and provides the following package of financial support:

- A tax-free maintenance grant set at the UK Research Council’s national rate, which in 2019/20 is £14,999 (pending confirmation).
- Full payment of their tuition fees at the Home/EU rate; &
- Access to extensive research support funding.

Part-time award-holders are funded for between six (6) and eight (8) years and receive a maintenance grant at 50% of the full-time rate.

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