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Tides as a natural experiment to learn about ice stream flow: modelling the “stick-slip” motion of Whillans Ice Stream, Antarctica (Advert Reference: RDF19/EE/GES/ROSIER)

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  • Full or part time
    Dr S Rosier
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

The Antarctic Ice Sheet contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by over 60m but our understanding of the basal mechanics of fast flowing ice streams, that largely determine the rate and amount of ice draining into the ocean, remains incomplete. Directly observing how they flow by accessing the bed is difficult, costly and only provides information at point locations. An alternative and active area of research is to observe how these ice streams respond to the ocean tides.

A particularly extreme response to ocean tides is observed on the Whillans Ice Stream, which exhibits an earthquake-like “stick-slip” motion modulated by tides in the neighbouring Ross Sea. The relatively slow background motion of the ice stream is punctuated several times a day by sudden “slip events” whereby a ~20,000 km2 region lurches forward by tens of centimetres in under an hour.
Using a state-of-the-art full-Stokes viscoelastic finite element model, the student will explore whether the current description of ice stream basal motion is capable of reproducing these “stick-slip” events. Testing various ice and till rheologies in order to reproduce the timing and magnitude of these events will lead to insights that can feed directly into large scale ice sheet models. The project will be conducted together with collaborators in the U. S. and draws on the strong numerical ice-flow expertise at Northumbria University under the supervision of Dr. Sebastian Rosier and Prof. G. Hilmar Gudmundsson who have used the model extensively in the past to explore tidal effects on ice stream flow.

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 or 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/ROSIER) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: Friday 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 is available to Students Worldwide, and covers full fees and a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2018/19, this is £14,777 pa).


Rosier, S. H. R. and Gudmundsson, G. H. Tidal Controls on the flow of ice streams, Geophysical Research Letters, 43 (9), 4433-4440. 2016

Rosier, S. H. R., Gudmundsson, G. H. and Green, J. A. M. Temporal variations in the flow of a large Antarctic ice stream controlled by tidally induced changes in the subglacial water system, The Cryosphere, 9 (4), 1649-1661. 2015

Rosier, S. H. R., Gudmundsson, G. H. and Green, J. A. M. Insights into ice stream dynamics through modelling their response to tidal forcing, The Cryosphere, 8 (5), 1763-1775. 2014

Gudmundsson, G. H. Ice-stream response to ocean tides and the form of the basal sliding law, The Cryosphere, 5, 259-270,, 2011.

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