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QUADRAT DTP: Comparative glaciology: reconstructing glaciers on Earth and Mars to understand landscape evolution with respect to climate change

   School of Geosciences

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  Dr Lydia Sam, Dr D Mullan, Prof B Rea  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Glaciers are one of the most significant drivers of landscape evolution on Earth. Similarly for Mars, ice played an important role in altering its surface and atmospheric composition. Mid-to-high latitudes of Mars host assemblages of landforms consistent with deglacial landsystems observable on Earth. Current Martian atmospheric models suggest that ice should not be stable if exposed at the surface in the mid-Martian latitudes. It is thus thought that most glacier-like forms (GLFs) must be covered with a layer of debris or dust preventing free transfer of water vapor from the sublimating ice into the air. This also suggests that in the geological past, the climate of Mars must have been different in order to allow the glaciers to grow at these latitudes.  

This project uses geospatial techniques of remote sensing, GIS, and photogrammetry to reconstruct glaciers on Earth and Mars. GLFs have undergone substantial mass loss and recession since a hypothesised last Martian glacial maximum (LMGM)1. There is a lacuna in the knowledge about the LMGM, the volume of ice lost and whether this mass loss has been spatially variable. Therefore, the research questions that we aim to address are: what can reconstructed GLFs tell us about the dynamics of Martian GLFs, past glacial evolution and implications for the future? Space-borne sensors allow us to monitor the physical changes in glaciers at different spatiotemporal scales and this project will help identify the evidence left on the landscape of modern glaciers, to reconstruct the extent and dynamics of former (glaciated) and modern (glacierised) environments2. This will help develop a comparative glaciological approach for understanding the glacial landscape evolution on Earth and Mars. The project will explore the spatial-variability of recession by reconstructing GLFs across different latitudes and topography .   

The project aims will be achieved by the delivery of a number of objectives: 

  1. Identify  the GLFs with sufficient data-coverage as the study regions. 
  2. Create high resolution Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) using HiRISE or other orbiter stereopairs where needed. 
  3. Characterise surface terrain types at high spatial resolution to enable geomorphologic mapping of the GLFs. 
  4. Reconstruct the former extent of GLFs using ice flow modelling and draw possible climatic inferences. 
  5. Reconstruct the former extent of selected glaciers within similar topographic settings on Earth. 
  6. Reconstruct the formation, deformation, flow direction and mass change of GLFs and earth glaciers. 
  7. Compare and draw inferences between Martian GLFs and  glaciers on Earth in terms of their geomorphic signatures related to climate change. 

 Throughout this 3.5-year project, the candidate will develop a suite of transferrable-skills provided by the QUADRAT DTP, including field courses, quantitative and advanced skills training, an internship and a Chartered Management Institute certificate in strategic management and leadership. This project will develop skills in glacier mapping/modelling and geospatial analyses. The skills developed and published outputs will enhance the candidate’s post-PhD opportunities across a wide spectrum of potential careers. 

Candidate Background: The successful candidate will have experience in GIS and photogrammetry. Experience with Matlab, Python and R are desirable but not essential.

More project details are available here:

How to apply: 

Funding Notes

QUADRAT studentships are open to UK and overseas candidates. Funding covers:
• A monthly stipend for accommodation and living costs, based on UKRI rates (currently £17,668 pa for 2022/23, updated annually)
• Fees (home rate tuition fees and/or fee waiver for overseas fees, where applicable)
• Research and training costs
For further information before applying please check full funding and eligibility information:


1. Brough et al. (2016) Icarus, 274, 37-49;
2. Glasser and Bennett (2009). Glacial geology: ice sheets and landforms.
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