Modelling Antarctic Winds and Ice Flow - Geography - NERC GW4+ DTP PhD Studentship Ref: 3133

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 Studentship will be awarded on the basis of merit and will commence in September 2018.  For eligible students the award will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum (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. Anne Le Brocq, Geography, University of Exeter
Co-Supervisor: Dr. Andrew Orr, British Antarctic Survey
Co-Supervisor: Prof. Simon Vosper, Met Office
Co-Supervisor: Dr. Andy Elvidge, University of East Anglia
Co-Supervisor:  Prof. Tony Payne, University of Bristol

Location: Streatham Campus, Exeter

Project description:

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) contains ice equivalent to up to 5 metres of global sea level rise.  An understanding of how the ice sheet responds to a changing climate is critical for robustly predicting future sea level changes.  Here, we propose to investigate the past behaviour of the ice sheet, to give us an insight into how it may respond in the future.

Geomorphological evidence from “blue ice moraines” (Fig. 1) in the Ellsworth Mountains has been used to suggest that the central divide of the WAIS has been intact for at least the last 1.4 million years (Hein et al., 2016).  This conclusion relies on an assumption about the relationship between “katabatic” (downslope) wind speeds, which maintain the blue ice areas, and the size of the ice sheet.  This assumption remains untested, therefore, it is key to establish the relationship between wind speeds and ice sheet size.

Image 1: Landsat image mosaic of blue ice areas in the Ellsworth Mountains.  Image credit: Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica (LIMA) Project, coastline credit: Antarctic Digital Database.

Project Aims and Methods

This project aims to investigate the role of the size of the WAIS in controlling the strength of the downslope winds in the Ellsworth Mountains.  The understanding of the connection between the size of the ice sheet and the wind strength will allow the assumption above to be tested, confirming whether the geomorphological evidence can be used to infer ice sheet size.

The student will first use a numerical weather prediction (the Met Office Unified Model) model to investigate the impact of different WAIS configurations on the generation of the downslope winds (following Orr et al., 2014).  Ice sheet configurations would range from moderate retreat, to removal of the marine-based areas, through to the full removal of the WAIS.  Further, in order to investigate the relationship between localised wind strength and moraine formation, the Elmer model will also be employed to look at the localised wind field (e.g. Zwinger et al., 2015), and the resultant ice flow (using Elmer/Ice).


This project would suit a student with a mathematical or meteorological background, with some knowledge of numerical modelling principles and the associated technical requirements of numerical models.


The successful applicant for this project will spend time at the British Antarctic Survey, the Met Office, and the University of Bristol, receiving training in the use of both climate and ice flow models.  This will provide the student with both desirable skills and experience of working with important numerical models, but also provide opportunities for networking at a number of key institutions.


Hein, A.S., Woodward, J., Marrero, S.M., Dunning, S.A., Steig, E.J., Freeman, S.P.H.T., Stuart, F.M., Winter, K. Westoby, M.J. & Sugden, D.E. (2016). Evidence for the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet divide for 1.4 million years. Nature Communications 7:10325 doi: 10.1038/ncomms10325

Orr, A., Phillips, T, Webster, S., Elvidge, A., Weeks, M., Hosking, S. and Turner, J.  (2014) Met Office Unified Model high-resolution simulations of a strong wind event in Antarctica.  Q J.R. Meteorol. Soc. 140, 2287-2297.

Zwinger, T., Malm, T., Schäfer, M., Stenberg, R. and Moore, J.C. (2015) Interaction of katabatic wind and local surface mass balance at Schaffenbergbotnen Blue Ice Area, Antarctica.  The Cryosphere 9, 1415–1426.


Application deadline:11th May 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 8th May 2018.  Interviews will be held at the University of Exeter in the week commencing 21st May 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.

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.