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What lies beneath the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets? A new data and modelling approach to determine basal conditions beneath the Earth’s largest ice masses (RDF23/GES/DERYDT)

   Faculty of Engineering and Environment

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  Dr Jan De Rydt, Prof Hilmar Gudmundsson  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The combined mass loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets accounts for 20% of global mean sea level rise, and this contribution is expected to increase sharply over the next decades to centuries. Large uncertainties remain, however, in the volume and timing of future ice loss from both ice sheets, in part due to our limited understanding of the physical processes that govern their dynamical evolution. One of the largest uncertainties arises from the poorly known conditions at the interface between the ice and the underlying bedrock or sediments. Direct measurements of this environment, often covered by several kilometers of ice, are very sparse. Glaciologists therefore rely on indirect methods to better understand and simulate the forward movement of ice relative to its underlying base. Such methods use a combination of numerical analysis and measurements of surface properties, such as ice velocity and surface elevation (see e.g. Barnes et al., 2021). Although well-established, the full potential of these methods have not been exploited thus far, and valuable information contained in recently released satellite datasets of spatiatemporal changes in ice thickness and surface velocity are yet to be unlocked (see e.g. De Rydt et al., 2021).

In this project you will work with a state-of-the-art numerical ice flow code ( and the latest satellite data on dynamic and geometric changes of the West Antarctic and West Greenland ice sheets

  1. To assess the sensitivity of glacier dynamics to assumptions about the basal rheology for both regions;
  2. To use concomitant observations of ice thinning and velocity change, in combination with theory, to obtain new fundamental insights into the basal rheology of both regions;
  3. To obtain the first spatial maps of the basal rheology beneath the West Antarctic and West Greenland coastlines, and assess the spatial distribution;
  4. To explore and develop statistical techniques to quantify uncertainties in basal properties, and the impact on future ice dynamics.

Your results will inform future model developments, with the overall aim to improve projections of Greenland and Antarctic mass loss over the next decades to centuries.

You will be part of a world-leading team of glaciologists and oceanographers in the Department of Geography & Environmental Sciences at Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK. You will work closely with Dr J. De Rydt and Prof H. Gudmundsson, and have the opportunity to work with and visit other leading research groups worldwide. Training will be offered in glaciology and numerical modelling, and there will be an opportunity to attend summer schools in the Italian Alps and Svalbard to gain further skills in glaciology. You will be encouraged to participate in UK and international scientific conferences to discuss with colleagues and to promote your research.

If you have strong numerical skills and a good background in physics, environmental sciences and programming, this project is well suited for you. An undergraduate or MSc degree in physics, mathematics or environmental sciences is essential.

Academic Enquiries

This project is supervised by Jan De Rydt. For informal queries, please contact [Email Address Removed]. For all other enquiries relating to eligibility or application process please use the email form below to contact Admissions. 

Funding Information

Home and International students (inc. EU) are welcome to apply. The studentship is available to Home and International (including EU) students and includes a full stipend at UKRI rates (for 2022/23 full-time study this is £17,668 per year) and full tuition fees. Studentships are also available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £10,600 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities).  

Please also see further advice below of additional costs that may apply to international applicants.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • 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 they are already a PhD holder or if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

Please note: to be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
  • have settled status, or
  • have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
  • have indefinite leave to remain or enter.

If a candidate does not meet the criteria above, they would be classed as an International student.  Applicants will need to be in the UK and fully enrolled before stipend payments can commence, and be aware of the following additional costs that may be incurred, as these are not covered by the studentship.

  • Immigration Health Surcharge
  • If you need to apply for a Student Visa to enter the UK, please refer to the information on It is important that you read this information very carefully as it is your responsibility to ensure that you hold the correct funds required for your visa application otherwise your visa may be refused.
  • Check what COVID-19 tests you need to take and the quarantine rules for travel to England
  • Costs associated with English Language requirements which may be required for students not having completed a first degree in English, will not be borne by the university. Please see individual adverts for further details of the English Language requirements for the university you are applying to.

How to Apply

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see   

For applications to be considered for interview, please include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words and the advert reference (e.g. RDF23/…).

Deadline for applications: 27 January 2023

Start date of course: 1 October 2023 tbc


Barnes, J. M., Dias dos Santos, T., Goldberg, D., Gudmundsson, G. H., Morlighem, M., and De Rydt, J.: The transferability of adjoint inversion products between different ice flow models, The Cryosphere, 15, 1975–2000,, 2021.
De Rydt, J., Reese, R., Paolo, F. S., and Gudmundsson, G. H.: Drivers of Pine Island Glacier speed-up between 1996 and 2016, The Cryosphere, 15, 113–132,, 2021.

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