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SCENARIO - Investigating the climate feedbacks that will determine the fate of the Greenland ice sheet

Project Description

Sea level change is one of the mostly widely recognised and potentially serious consequences of climate change due to emissions of greenhouse gases. The contribution to sea level change from melting the polar ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica has already raised global sea levels by around 20mm since 1993, and this rate is expected to grow over the 21st century. Ice mass loss is the most uncertain part of the sea level change budget, largely because the science of modelling how large ice sheets interact with a changing climate has been severely limited by the fact that climate and ice sheet models do not work well together.

Our group is at the forefront of the international effort to interactively model ice sheets as part of global climate projections. This project proposes to use our new and unique modelling capabilities to gain new understanding of the ways in which the atmosphere and ice sheets interact. Focusing on the Greenland ice sheet, this project will investigate the atmospheric and land surface physics that determine the sensitivity of changing large-scale surface conditions on the ice, and how changes in ice extent and height feed back on both local and regional climate and atmospheric circulation.

Studies with regional and global climate models for the coming century have shown that predictions of
how much of the surface of the ice will melt ice for a given level of climate change can vary by factor of two or more. And whilst it has been appreciated for some time that warming of the surface due to its reduction in altitude as it melts is a crucial part of predicting the centennial rate of mass loss from Greenland, it now seems likely that changes in snowfall due to the changing shape of the ice sheet may be just as important. There are a number of interacting atmospheric, snow surface and ice flow processes involved in these large-scale feedbacks, and as yet little research into the phenomena.

This project will use two climate models - a computationally cheap, low resolution climate model and a state-of-the-art model used to make the UK’s global climate projections, both capable of being interactively coupled to models of the Greenland ice sheet - to conduct a series of experiments to investigate the mechanisms of climate-ice interactions and what they imply for the long-term future of the Greenland ice sheet in our changing climate.

Modelling climate with ice sheet systems is a new and rapidly expanding area of Earth System science. You will be well placed at the front of this field, gaining abilities in scientific and computational modelling that will enable you to work in atmospheric, land and cryospheric sciences in a number of potential roles, as well as transferrable computational and data analysis skills.

Training opportunities:
You will receive training in model data analysis and the use and interpretation of the Met Office Unified Model, used in the UK for both weather forecasting and climate prediction, the new UK Earth System Model and ice sheet models. NCAS additionally offers training in field work appropriate for atmospheric scientists.

Student profile:
This project would be suitable for students with an enthusiastic interest in the physics of the natural world. Applicants should hold or expect to gain a minimum of a 2:1 Bachelor Degree, Masters Degree with Merit, or equivalent in (ideally) mathematics, physics or a closely related environmental or physical science.

Funding Notes

This project is potentially funded by the Scenario NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, subject to a competition to identify the strongest applicants.

Due to restrictions on the funding this studentship is open to UK students and EU students who have lived in the UK for the past three years. The DTP can only fund a very limited number of international students, so only applications from international students with an outstanding academic background placing them in the top 10% of their cohort will be considered.


Pattyn et al. “The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets under 1.5 °C global warming” Nature Climate Change volume 8, pages 1053–1061 (2018)

How good is research at University of Reading in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 75.68

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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