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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities

Supervisors: Andy Woods (BP Institute) and Julian Dowdeswell (Geography/SPRI

Importance of the area of research:

Quantification of the melt rate of glaciers is key for climate change modelling. Glaciers in Greenland connected to fjords are melting at considerable rates, driven at the front of the glacier with sea water. Recent field expeditions have measured the salinity and temperature structure of the water in the fjords to try to constrain the melt rate of the glaciers. It is becoming clear that the interaction of shelf water with the fjord water, as well as the mixing of the fjord water produced by the melt-plume on the face of the glacier are key for understanding and constraining the melting rate. This project will develop new laboratory experiments to model the melting and mixing, and exchange with shelf water, to help in the interpretation of the field data.

Project summary:

The PhD project will involve the development of a series of experiments and quantitative models of convective plumes on the face of a melting glacier, combined with models of the mixing in a fjord as driven by the melt water and also by the exchange flows with the adjacent shelf water.  The models and experiments will help inform our understanding of recent field data collected in Greenland, of the temperature and salinity structure of the fjord, and in turn of the melting rate of the glaciers at the head of such fjords. The small-scale processes controlling the melting of the glaciers can then be parameterised for inclusion in larger scale climate models, which operate on a larger spatial scale but rely on the accuracy of such small scale process models.

What the student will do:

The student will run a series of experiments of a turbulent buoyant plume  located at the end of a flume tank, as the model fjord. The other end of the flume tank will include layers of fresh and saline water, to represent the different water masses on the continental shelf beyond the fjord, and the student will then examine the influence of the mixing produced by the plume on the exchange flow between the fjord and the shelf, and also in changing the density structure of the water in the fjord. They will explore the role of fluctuations in the density structure of the shelf water as observed in recent field expeditions, and its impact on the water in the fjord, in terms of the time scale and nature of the change in the stratification of the fjord. The fresh water plume representing melt water run off from the glacier may also include a time dependent intensity to model seasonal changes in melt rate

Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


C Andresen et al., Rapid response of Helheim Glacier in Greenland to climate variability over the past century, Nature Geoscience 5, 37-41 (2012)

Fiametta, et al., Impact of fjord dynamics and glacial runoff on the circulation near Helheim Glacier, Nature Geoscience 4, 322-327 (2011)

F Straneo, and C Cenedese,2015, The dynamics of greenlands glacial fjords and their role in climate, Ann Rev Marine Science, 2015

Follow this link to find out about applying for this project.

Other projects available from the Lead Supervisor can be viewed here.

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