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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities

Supervisors: Eric Wolff (Earth Sciences), Emilie Capron (British Antarctic Survey) and Robert Mulvaney (British Antarctic Survey)

Importance of the area of research:

Antarctic ice cores contain a record of changes in Antarctic climate and environment. This can be revealed by chemical analysis of well-dated ice cores from around the continent. Over the last 130,000 years, Antarctica has experienced a global scale glacial-interglacial cycle, the local manifestation of millennial scale changes, and changes in ice sheet topography and volume. It is important to unravel these influences by using the spatial pattern of change. Millennial scale variability is generally ascribed primarily to changes in ocean heat transport, and assessing the regional response of such change offers a test of a process that is difficult to model. Understanding how the ice sheet (and hence sea level) responded to climate change in the past offers benchmarks for assessing ice sheet models that are also used to predict changes in ice sheets and sea level into the future. This project is part of a larger programme (WACSWAIN, funded by the European Research Council) whose main goal is to assess what happened to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in the last interglacial. This component will concentrate on the remainder of the glacial cycle from 115,000 years ago to the present.

Project summary:

The aim of this project is to determine the spatial pattern of climate change across Antarctica through the last glacial cycle. Up to two new ice core climate records will be generated and combined with existing published data from sites in West and East Antarctica to determine commonalities and differences between climate and other environmental changes across the continent. Contrasting signals arise from the fact that millennial change may be seen differently in different ocean basins, and from changes in ice sheet topography affecting some sites. Proxies for temperature, sea ice, dust deposition and snow accumulation will be available. Detailed study of how spatial contrasts in these parameters evolve with time will allow conclusions about patterns of growth and shrinking of the ice sheet, and the way that individual millennial events are manifested around Antarctica.

What the student will do:

The student will be based at the Department of Earth Sciences, but will use British Antarctic Survey (BAS) ice core laboratories to analyse ice from the last glacial cycle (Holocene, last glacial maximum, marine isotope stages 3-5d) from a newly-collected ice core from Skytrain Ice Rise, facing the Ronne Ice Shelf. They will play a major role in undertaking a range of analyses (water isotopes, ion chemistry) of the core, and will contribute to the dating of the core. It is also expected that they will take part in a short Antarctic field season (2019/20) where another potential site will be explored. The main task will then be to synchronise the new records and all existing Antarctic ice core records covering the bulk of the last glacial cycle, including published records and some as-yet unpublished data held at BAS. This will allow them to produce maps of how ice core properties vary spatially with time, and from this they will start to make deductions about regional patterns of change and their causes. Existing and new climate model runs will be available to aid interpretation, and the option exists for the student to carry out further simulations of their own design.

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.


Masson-Delmotte, V., et al. 2011. A comparison of the present and last interglacial periods in six Antarctic ice cores, Clim. Past, 7(2), 397-423. doi:10.5194/cp-7-397-2011

Wais Divide Project Members. 2015. Precise interpolar phasing of abrupt climate change during the last ice age, Nature, 520(7549), 661-665, doi:10.1038/nature14401

Bentley, M. J., C. J. Fogwill, A. M. Le Brocq, A. L. Hubbard, D. E. Sugden, T. J. Dunai, and S. Freeman. 2010. Deglacial history of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in the Weddell Sea embayment: Constraints on past ice volume change, Geology, 38(5), 411-414, doi:10.1130/g30754.1.

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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