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Quantifying and modelling annual variability in the flow of Greenland and the Antarctic Ice Sheets and assessing global impacts (Advert Reference: RDF19/EE/GES/GUDMUNDSSON)

Project Description

Ice sheets are currently the biggest contributors to global sea level change and their contributions may possibly increase sharply in the near future. It is therefore of considerable importance to quantify ongoing changes in the Earth’s ice sheets, to understand how these changes are driven by external factors, and to improve predictions of the future impacts of ice sheets on sea levels. Recent advances in remote sensing are now giving us a much-improved picture of temporal velocity variations over the Greenland the Antarctic ice sheets. These new data show that superimposed on a long-term (multi annual, decadal scales and longer) trend of mass loss, there are shorter temporal fluctuations in ice flow speed that seem to reflect seasonal changes in external drivers. Uniquely identifying these external drivers has, however, so far not been possible. Broadly speaking, explanations proposed so far involve either glacier surface processes (e.g. seasonal surface melt water generation) or changes in ocean conditions (e.g. sea ice conditions, ocean impacts on calving rates, etc). Understanding how these external factors affect ice flow is one of the grand unsolved problems in glaciology today.

Using new remote sensing data sets, and state-of-the art numerical ice flow models, we will test a number of ideas put forward to explain the spatial pattern of seasonal variations in Greenland and Antarctica. The project will be conducted in collaboration with the sea-ice specialist Prof. Julienne Strove at the NERC Center for Polar Observations and Modelling (CPOIM) at UCL, and the remote sensing specialist Dr. Twila Moon at the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at Bolder, US. The project involves a strong numerical ice-flow component under the supervision of Prof. G. Hilmar Gudmundsson and Dr. Leanne Wake at the department of Geography and Environmental Sciences at University of Northumbria, Newcastle.

Together with our project partners we will compile new data sets on annual flow variations in Greenland and Antarctica, with a specific focus on the Antarctic Peninsula, where the absence of any significant surface melt makes testing ideas about ocean control on ice flow particularly promising. Using formal inverse methodology, remote sensing data on ice flow velocity will be used in to invert for basal properties. Numerical perturbation experiments will be conducted to test the importance of different types of external forcings, and model outputs compared with remote sensing data sets of temporal variations in flow. There will also be scope to formulate alternative explanations and explore new ideas related to temporal variations in the flow of large ice masses.

A student with strong numerical skills and good background in physics or environmental sciences and programming would be well suited for this project. An undergraduate degree in physics, mathematics of environmental sciences is essential.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
• Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF19/EE/GES/GUDMUNDSSON) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 25 January 2019
Start Date: 1 October 2019

Northumbria University is an equal opportunities provider and in welcoming applications for studentships from all sectors of the community we strongly encourage applications from women and under-represented groups.

Funding Notes

The studentship includes a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2017/18, this is £14,553 pa) and fees (Home/EU £4,450 / International £13,500).


Rathmann, N. M., C. S. Hvidberg, A. M. Solgaard, A. Grinsted, G. H. Gudmundsson, P. LLangen, and others, ‘Highly Temporally Resolved Response to Seasonal Surface Melt of the Zachariae and 79N Outlet Glaciers in Northeast Greenland’, Geophysical Research Letters, 2017, 1–10

Hogg, Anna E, and G Hilmar Gudmundsson, ‘Impacts of the Larsen-C Ice Shelf Calving Event’, Nature Clim. Change, 7 (2017), 540–42

Gudmundsson, G. Hilmar, Jan De Rydt, and Thomas Nagler, ‘Five Decades of Strong Temporal Variability in the Flow of Brunt Ice Shelf, Antarctica’, Journal of Glaciology, 63 (2017), 164–75

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