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Unveiling the 4D variability in the lithospheric cradle of the Antarctic ice sheet

Project Description

This PhD project leverages on a new EO project of ESA, 4D Antarctica, which aims to investigate and model the Antarctic lithosphere and assess its effects on geothermal heat flux variability.

The main aim of this PhD project is to develop state of the art 2D and 3D models and interpretations of crustal and lithosphere structure and thermal structure for selected Antarctic study regions, including the PolarGAP surrounding South Pole, where the satellite EO data gap has recently been filled with new airborne geophysical observations. The project will target modelling the crust and lithosphere and its evolution beneath the Pensacola-Pole subglacial basin in East Antarctica that also hosts a variety of dynamic and static subglacial lakes. Larger scale models of the lithosphere and geothermal heat flux variability beneath the West and East Antarctic ice sheets will then be developed and compared with the better understood Ross Sea, Transantarctic Mountains and Wilkes Subglacial Basin region. Comparative studies between the Wilkes and Pensacola-Pole basins will link bedrock topography, geology, deep structure, geothermal heat flux and subglacial hydrology in both regions for the first time.

We anticipate that the project will provide key new insights into crustal and lithosphere structure beneath the South Pole frontier, new geophysical estimates of large-scale subglacial geothermal heat flux variability, novel views of the interplays between bed topography, geology, subice hydrology and ice sheet dynamics, and methodological advancements in integrated lithosphere-ice sheet studies.


The PhD student will be based in BAS and regularly visit Leeds University and Edinburgh University as well as the University of Kiel. The student will be trained in EO satellite and airborne potential field data processing and enhanced analyses, including in particular 2D and 3D modelling software methods and capabilities. Advanced Geosoft potential field software courses will be provided; IGMAS software, LitMod and other thermal modelling software training will be available via our German project partner at Kiel University. Broader training opportunities in time management, team skills and scientific writing and presentation skills will also be offered, and a 3 month placement will also be provided.

This PhD is part of the NERC and UK Space Agency funded Centre for Doctoral Training "SENSE": the Centre for Satellite Data in Environmental Science. SENSE will train 50 PhD students to tackle cross-disciplinary environmental problems by applying the latest data science techniques to satellite data. All our students will receive extensive training on satellite data and AI/Machine Learning, as well as attending a field course on drones, and residential courses hosted by the Satellite Applications Catapult (Harwell), and ESA (Rome). All students will experience extensive training on professional skills, including spending 3 months on an industry placement. See

Funding Notes

'This 3 year 9 month long NERC SENSE CDT award will provide tuition fees (£4,500 for 2019/20), tax-free stipend at the UK research council rate (£15,009 for 2019/20), and a research training and support grant to support national and international conference travel. View Website

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