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The role of supraglacial lakes in ice sheet change and sea level rise

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  • Full or part time
    Dr A Leeson
    Dr H Tuffen
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Every summer, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets develop a rash of supraglacial lakes around their edges. When they grow large enough, the water they contain can drain into the ice beneath which can either lubricate flow on grounded ice or structurally weaken floating ice shelves.

Both of these impacts can lead to increased ice loss to the sea, and a subsequent global sea level rise, perhaps the most famous example being the spectacular collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf in 2002 due to the repeated filling and draining of supraglacial lakes on its surface. Whilst the formation and growth of these lakes is fairly well understood, it is much less easy to predict how, where and when a lake will drain. Since we expect supraglacial lakes to increase in number, size and extent in Greenland and Antarctica in coming years, it is important to address this omission in order to quantify the potential impact on global sea level.

This project will use satellite observations and numerical modelling to determine, for the first time, which of the new lakes that form under future warming scenarios are likely to drain, and where and how frequently this will occur.

The work, which will be supervised by Dr Amber Leeson and Dr Hugh Tuffen at Lancaster University, and Dr Jonathan Kingslake at Columbia University, will provide excellent opportunities to develop numerical and computational skills and to gain experience in remote sensing and GIS for which full training will be given. Additionally, there will be opportunities to engage with (and visit) international partner scientists, including a short visit to Columbia University in New York in year 2 of the project.

Read more about Amber Leeson’s recent work on supraglacial lakes here: or listen to her discussing it on the radio:

Funding Notes

Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours degree 2:1 level or equivalent in subjects such as Environmental Science, Physical Geography or Natural Sciences and have a strong interest in polar research. The candidate should also be able to evidence a high degree of numerical/computational ability. Programming experience would be an advantage.

Full studentships are available to UK/EU candidates who've been ordinarily resident in the UK throughout the 3-year period immediately preceding the date of an award. EU candidates who've not been resident in the UK for the last 3-years are eligible for "tuition fees-only" awards (no maintenance grant).

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