Investigating the Marine Record of Pleistocene Ice and Climate Variability Offshore of South Georgia Island, Sub-Antarctica - Geography - NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship Ref: 2792

About the award

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus six Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Met Office, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see

The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-2018, research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.


Lead supervisor: Dr. Alastair G.C. Graham, Geography, University of Exeter
Co-Supervisor: Dr. Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand, British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK.
Co-Supervisor: Dr. Gerhard Kuhn, Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Germany.
Co-Supervisor: Prof. Gerhard Bohrmann, MARUM, Bremen, Germany.
Co-Supervisor: Prof. Dominic Hodgson, British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK.

Location: Streatham Campus, Exeter

Project description:

Reconstructing the history of glacial advance and retreat in sub-polar regions peripheral to Antarctica’s ice sheets is important for establishing far-field constraints on ice-sheet models, for understanding the past forcing and magnitude of climate variability, and for interpreting the evolution and biodiversity of modern sea-floor fauna. However, to-date, most sub-Antarctic islands have received little attention especially in areas of shallow continental shelf that surround these localities. As a consequence, the history of sub-Antarctic glaciations remains poorly understood. Particular debate has centered on the extent and timing of past glaciations on South Georgia. Recent studies have converged on the interpretation that the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) ice cap was extensive on the continental shelf and was followed by several down-fjord readvances during the last termination. However, understanding of the number, magnitude, and timing of Pleistocene glaciations still remains poor, and the proposed pattern of ice-cap behaviour at and since the LGM requires further testing.

Image 1: South Georgia, from a Landsat 8 image acquired in 2015.

Project Aims and Methods

This PhD project will build upon a foundation laid down by three recent studies (Graham et al. 2017, Barlow et al. 2016, and Barnes et al. 2016), to test, refine and extend current understanding of Pleistocene glaciation and climate variability on South Georgia, using existing and recently acquired marine geoscientific datasets.

It is anticipated that the project will focus initial attention on three discrete but inter-connected studies that can each form independent PhD papers/chapters : (1) the shelf record of past glaciation as recorded in both the detailed bathymetry, landforms and sub-surface from the Cumberland Trough, north of South Georgia; (2) the geophysical architecture of cross-shelf trough sedimentary fills; (3) marine sedimentary records of Holocene ice and climate variability from the inner shelf and near-coastal fjords. The candidate will work with and analyse already recovered multibeam bathymetric data, sub-bottom profiler data, and marine sediment cores from the fjords and continental shelf. They will combine a range of geophysical and geological techniques during their PhD, which are likely to include acoustic facies analysis, isopach mapping, sediment facies analysis, x-ray and XRF core scanning, physical properties analysis, radiocarbon dating, clay mineralogy, and stable isotope analysis.


The project would suit a candidate with strong interests in glacial geology and the Antarctic; ideally with prior experience of marine geological and/or geophysical data analysis. Where feasible, fieldwork may form part of the project so a willingness to participate in marine geoscientific expeditions is desirable.


The student will receive specific training in the following areas:
- Marine geophysical data handling and processing, specifically multibeam echo sounder data
- Use of SeNt and TOPAS software for read, processing, and display of Atlas Parasound/TOPAS sub-bottom profiler data
- Use of SMT Kingdom suite seismic software for the 3D interpretation of sub-surface data
- Marine sediment core description, sampling, and analytical techniques
- Application of radiocarbon geochronology in Antarctic marine environments
- Glacial and marine geological theory and interpretations
- Advanced GIS skills for analysis of marine datasets
- Paper writing, conference oral and poster presentation skills


Graham AGC, Kuhn G, Meisel O, Hillenbrand C-D, Hodgson DA, Ehrmann W, Wacker L, Wintersteller P, dos Santos Ferreira C, Römer M, et al (2017). Major advance of South Georgia glaciers during the Antarctic Cold Reversal following extensive sub-Antarctic glaciation. Nature Communications, 8, 14798-14798.

Barlow NLM; Bentley MJ; Spada G; Evans DJA; Hansom JD; Brader MD; White DA; Zander A; Berg S (2016). Testing models of ice cap extent, South Georgia, sub-Antarctic, Quaternary Science Reviews, 154, 157-168.

Barnes, David K.A., Sands, Chester J., Hogg, Oliver T., Robinson, Ben J.O., Downey, Rachel V., Smith, James A. (2016). Biodiversity signature of the Last Glacial Maximum at South Georgia, Southern Ocean. Journal of Biogeography, 43, 2391-2399.

Entry requirements:         

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK.   Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree.  Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply. 

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the  project

Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.


Application deadline:7th January 2018
Value:£14,553 per annum for 2017-18
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Recruitment

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.

•       CV
•       Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to
        undertake the project.
•       Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim transcript
        if you are still studying.
•       If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current
        proficiency in English. 

You will be asked to name 2 referees as part of the application process however we will not contact these people until the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 7 January 2018.  Interviews will be held at the University of Exeter between 5 - 16 February 2018.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email  Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisor.

During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

• the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;

• administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.