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Reconstructing Himalayan glacier behaviour since the ‘Little Ice Age’ to predict their response to future climate change

   Department of Geography

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  Dr A Ann Rowan, Dr S Livingstone, Dr D Rippin, Prof Duncan Quincey  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Himalayan glaciers provide meltwater to major Asian rivers for agriculture and hydropower, feeding 20% of the global population in countries such as India, Nepal, and China (Immerzeel et al., 2010, Science). Recent glacier change in the Himalaya is poorly understood, as demonstrated by the controversy surrounding the 2007 IPCC 4th Assessment report, which highlighted how little was known about the response of these glaciers to future climate change. These glaciers last advanced during the Little Ice Age (LIA) about 500 years ago in response to Northern Hemisphere cooling. Geochronological data from the LIA are limited to just 28 examples of over 40,000 glaciers, but they indicate that advances and recessions were highly spatially variable (Rowan, 2017, Holocene). Although a general trend of glacier mass loss in response to hemispheric warming is identified, glacier behaviour is strongly modified by the interaction of extreme topography with mesoscale meteorology, notably the transition in influence from the Monsoonal to Westerly weather systems along the range axis. Glacier dynamics, topography, morphometry and debris cover also known to have a significant impact on how these glaciers have and will respond to climate change.

Glacial geomorphology and geology provide an excellent opportunity to investigate how and why Himalayan glaciers have gained and lost ice mass over recent decades and centuries. This project will investigate regional glacier change by (1) reconstructing advances and recessions of individual Himalayan glaciers during the Late Holocene period using field mapping and satellite observations; (2) producing new geochronological data to constrain the timing and rates of glacier change using Terrestrial Cosmogenic Nuclide dating; and (3) developing numerical models to test how Himalayan glaciers have responded to climate change in the past to infer likely future changes in glacier mass and meltwater supplies.

The post would suit a motivated student with interests in glaciology and climate change, and enthusiasm for fieldwork in the high Himalaya (likely in Nepal and/or India). The student will receive training in state-of-the-art data collection techniques including; remote-sensing observations of recent glacier change, geomorphological mapping and monitoring of large mountain glaciers and conduct fieldwork in remote, high-altitude environments, Terrestrial Cosmogenic Nuclide dating (in collaboration with the NERC Cosmogenic Isotope Analysis Facility), and numerical modelling of the response of glaciers to climate change. The successful candidate will join an active research group of academic, postdoctoral and doctoral researchers investigating glacier dynamics and change in the Himalaya, and have the opportunity to join ongoing field campaigns in the Everest region of Nepal in addition to carrying out their own independent fieldwork.

Funding Notes

Fully funded for a minimum of 3.5 years, studentships cover: (i) a tax-free stipend at the standard Research Council rate (at least £14,296 per annum for 2017-2018), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees at the UK/EU rate. Studentship(s) are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements. Students from EU countries who do not meet residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award.


This Ph.D. project is part of the NERC funded Doctoral Training Partnership “ACCE” (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment). This is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, York and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
Selection process: Shortlisting will take place as soon as possible after the closing date and successful applicants will be notified promptly. Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview to take place at the University of Sheffield the w/c 13th February 2017.
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