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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities

Supervisors: Elizabeth Thomas (British Antarctic Survey), Markus Kalberer (Chemistry) and Eric Wolff (Earth Sciences)

Importance of the area of research:

The Antarctic ice sheet has been losing mass in recent decades, especially along the Amundsen and Bellingshausen Sea coast[i], however, there is evidence of increased snowfall in this region [ii]. The increased snowfall has been linked to changes in atmospheric circulation and the observed reduction in sea ice in the Bellingshausen Sea during the satellite era [ii]. However, the observational period is short and longer reconstructions are needed to explore the link between snowfall and sea ice and place the recent changes in context. ;Ice core records of methanesulphonic acid (MSA), derived by algae at the sea ice edge, have been used to reconstruct past winter sea ice extent [iii]. However, the detection of other marine organic compounds (such as Fatty acids and Oxalate) is now emerging, with the potential to support and enhance our current sea ice proxies.

Project summary:

Long records of Antarctic sea ice are vital to understand Antarctic climate, with growing evidence that sea ice can influence the Antarctic surface mass balance and ultimately global sea level rise. Marine organic compounds found in Antarctic ice cores have been used as proxies for past sea ice conditions.  Advances in analytical methods is allowing us to detect a large number of marine organic compounds, with the potential to develop novel proxies for past sea ice.

What the student will do:

The student will measure marine organics in ice cores from the Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctica. They will measure both proven proxies for past sea ice, such as MSA, and develop new proxies for past sea ice and marine conditions based on analysis of organic compounds, such as fatty acids and oxalate. The organic compounds will be measured using ion chromatography at BAS and high pressure liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (HPLC-MS) at the Department of Chemistry.  Laboratory analysis will be supported by modelling studies, including the community model WRF-Chem and the NAME Atmospheric Dispersion Model.

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.


[i]Pritchard, H. D., S. R. M. Ligtenberg, H. A. Fricker, D. Vaughan, M. R. van den Broeke, and L. Padman. 2012. Antarctic ice-sheet loss driven by basal melting of ice shelves, Nature, 484(7395), 502-505.

[ii]Thomas et al., 2017. Regional Antarctic snow accumulation over the past 1000 years. Climate of the Past, 42 pp

[iii]Thomas and Abram, 2016. Ice core reconstruction of sea ice change in the Amundsen-Ross Seas since 1702 A.D. Geophysical Research Letters, 43. 5309-5317. 10.1002/2016GL068130

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