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The influence of biogeochemistry and microbiology on Antarctic ice shelves


Project Description

Project Background
Predicting the future behaviour of ice shelves is critical for understanding how Antarctica will respond to climate warming. The presence of debris on ice shelf surfaces is known to change the albedo and enhance melt, but the debris itself has been the subject of minimal investigation. The debris hosts microbial communities, including cyanobacteria with pigments that can darken surfaces sufficiently to increase local ablation rates (Jungblut et al. 2017). On some ice surfaces, this ‘bioalbedo’ influence is sufficient to significantly increase melt. This project will explore whether this phenomenon occurs on Antarctic ice shelves, and how microbial activity can change the occurrence and biogeochemical characteristics of ice shelf surface melt.

Project Aims and Methods
The project will characterise the microbial communities that inhabit debris on the surface of the Ross Ice Shelf, and investigate their impact on the surrounding environment. The student will use state of the art microbial techniques to analyse the community composition in labs at the Natural History Museum. They will explore the activity of the community in the Cardiff Cold Climate lab, and assess how activity influences pigmentation. They will use imaging techniques at NHM and Cardiff to understand how interactions between microbes and minerals support this diverse yet extreme ecosystem. Meltwater samples collected with partners at GNS New Zealand will be analysed at the University of Bristol to evaluate how the microbial activity in the debris changes the biogeochemistry of meltwater, and how this runoff can influence the surrounding oceans. The student may have the opportunity to participate in Antarctic fieldwork, subject to logistical and funding constraints, and here they will conduct in situ experiments to understand the variability of the microbial activity across the shelf. The data collected will be synthesised to build a comprehensive picture of this little-explored ecosystem, to help understand how microbial functions influence wider environmental processes.

Candidate Requirements
This cross-disciplinary project requires diverse skills in biogeochemistry, microbiology and earth science; few candidates will have all the skills required at the beginning of the project, so the key requirement is enthusiasm and willingness to learn.

CASE or Collaborative Partner
The project benefits from two partners: the Natural History Museum, London, and GNS Science with the University of Waikato, New Zealand. NHM will provide access to state of the art molecular facilities and full training for the candidate. GNS/Waikato will provide expertise and samples from the ice shelf, and may provide an opportunity for field research.

Training
The student will receive exemplary laboratory training at three world-class institutions: Cardiff, Bristol and NHM. At Cardiff they will conduct low temperature experiments to assess microbial activity and physical properties. At Bristol they will learn analytical techniques for assessing the biogeochemistry of extremely low concentration samples. At NHM they will receive training on up to date molecular analyses and imaging. The student will also have the opportunity to visit the collaborating partners in New Zealand to learn about the wider ice shelf processes, and potentially to participate in polar fieldwork. Throughout the project the student will have the support of a supervisory team to develop their scientific skills, and access to a range of training opportunities across the GW4 and NERC.
Residency:

UK Research Council eligibility conditions apply
Open to UK and EU students. All EU applicants must have been ordinarily resident in the EU for at least 3 years prior to the start of their proposed programme of study.
Applicants from EU countries who do not meet the residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award.

How to apply:

You should apply to the Doctor of Philosophy in Earth and Ocean Sciences with a start date of October 2020, including:

Your CV
a personal statement
two references (applicants are recommended to have a third academic referee, if the two academic referees are within the same department/school)
current academic transcripts.

In the research proposal section of your application, please specify the project title and supervisors of this project and copy the project description in the text box provided. In the funding section, please select ’I will be applying for a scholarship/grant’ and specify that you are applying for advertised funding from NERC GW4+ DTP.

If you wish to apply for more than one project please email .

The deadline for applications is 16:00 on 6 January 2020.

Shortlisting for interview will be conducted by 31 January 2020.

Shortlisted candidates will then be invited to an institutional interview. Interviews will be held in Cardiff University between 10 February and 21 February 2020.


Funding Notes

Full UK/EU tuition fees

Doctoral stipend matching UK Research Council National Minimum
Additional funding to the value £11,000 is available over the course of the programme for conference attendance, fieldwork allowance, travel allowance and other project costs. A further £3,250 is available in the form of as a training credits over the course of the programme for specialist training courses and/or opportunities (plus £750 ringfenced for travel and accommodation on compulsory cohort events).

References

References / Background reading list
Banwell et al. 2019 Direct measurements of ice-shelf flexure caused by surface meltwater ponding and drainage, Nature Communications, 10.1038/s41467-019-08522-5,
Cook et al. 2019 Glacier algae accelerate melt rates on the western Greenland Ice Sheet, The Cryosphere Discussions,10.5194/tc-2019-58,
Glasser et al. 2006 Debris characteristics and ice-shelf dynamics in the ablation region of the McMurdo Ice Shelf, Antarctica, Journal of Glaciology, 10.3189/172756506781828692,
Hawes et al. 2018 The “Dirty Ice” of the McMurdo Ice Shelf: Analogues for biological oases during the Cryogenian, Geobiology 10.1111/gbi.12280,
Jungblut et al. 2017 Arctic Ice Shelf Ecosystems, 10.1007/978-94-024-1101-0_9,
Kingslake et al. 2017 Widespread movement of meltwater onto and across Antarctic ice shelves, Nature, 10.1038/nature22049

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 14.99

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

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