How does the ocean influence glacial melt in the Amundsen Sea, Antarctica?


How does the ocean influence glacial melt in the Amundsen Sea, Antarctica?


Project Description


Dr Rob Hall, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia

Prof Karen Heywood, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia

Prof Anna Wåhlin, Department of Marine Sciences, University of Gothenburg


Scientific background:

The Amundsen Sea glaciers in West Antarctica are rapidly melting in response to recent climate warming and related changes in ocean circulation, increasing estimates of future sea level rise. However, these prediction are uncertain because we lack an understanding of the physical processes that accelerate glacial melt within the sub-ice-shelf cavity. This PhD project will investigate the heat brought into the cavity by deep, but relatively warm, water masses on the continental shelf. You will observe and assess the turbulent mixing processes that alter these water masses before they enter the cavity, while they recirculate beneath the ice shelf, and as they exit the cavity carrying glacial meltwater.

Research methodology:

To investigate these processes, you will use observations of ocean temperature, salinity, current velocity, and small-scale turbulence from the Amundsen Sea, both along the fronts of the ice shelves and far beneath them. These measurements will be made from research ships, buoyancy-driven autonomous ocean gliders, and propeller-driven autonomous underwater vehicles that will travel many kilometres under the ice shelves. You will use these datasets to (a) quantify the turbulent mixing of heat between the water masses in and around the cavity, (b) determine the type of instabilities that cause the mixing, and (c) estimate its influence on glacial melt within the cavity.


You will have the opportunity to participate in a research cruise to the Amundsen Sea in 2020/21 and will collaborate with leading UK and US oceanographers, glaciologists and geophysicists as part of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration. You will gain valuable experience in observational oceanography and marine autonomy, be trained in advanced methods for data processing, analysis and visualization, and, as part of the UEA Glider Group, be involved with the deployment and piloting of ocean gliders during upcoming field campaigns.

Person specification:

The ideal candidate will have a physical science degree or similar (e.g. oceanography, meteorology, physics, environmental sciences, natural sciences, engineering, mathematics). A background in ocean science is not required, but experience with computer programming languages (e.g. Matlab, Python) will be an advantage. This project is suitable for a highly numerate candidate.


  • Heywood, K. J., L. C. Biddle, L. Boehme, P. Dutrieux, M. Fedak, A. Jenkins, R. W. Jones, J. Kaiser, H. Mallett, A. C. Naveira Garabato, I. A. Renfrew, D. P. Stevens, and B. G. M. Webber, 2016: Between the devil and the deep blue sea: The role of the Amundsen Sea continental shelf in exchanges between ocean and ice shelves. Oceanography, 29(4), 118-129, doi:10.5670/oceanog.2016.104.
  • Naveira Garabato, A. C., A. Forryan, P. Dutrieux, L. Brannigan, L. Biddle, K. J. Heywood, A. Jenkins, Y. Firing, and S. Kimura, 2017: Vigorous lateral export of the meltwater outflow from beneath an Antarctic ice shelf, Nature, 542, 219-222, doi:10.1038/nature20825.
  • Hall, R. A., B. Berx, and G. M. Damerell, 2019: Internal tide energy flux over a ridge measured by a co-located ocean glider and moored acoustic Doppler current profiler. Ocean Science, in press, doi:10.5194/os-15-1-2019.
  • Polzin, K. L., A. C. N. Garabato, T. N. Huussen, B. M. Sloyan, and S. Waterman, 2014: Finescale parameterizations of turbulent dissipation, Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 119, 1383-1419, doi:10.1002/2013JC008979.
  • Thomas, L. N., J. R. Taylor, R. Ferrari, and T. M. Joyce, 2013: Symmetric instability in the Gulf Stream. Deep-Sea Research II, 91, 96-110, doi:10.1016/j.dsr2.2013.02.025.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, and will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award.
  • Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses in the subject area (see
  • This studentship will start on 1st October 2020, and the closing date for applications is 23:59 on 15th January 2020.
  • Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 18/19 February 2020.
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor.
  • Please note that the joint NERC-ESRC ARIES-SeNSS studentship projects have different deadlines and funding arrangements. For full details please visit, or contact

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