The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Student Profiles

Emily Hill

Project title: The Greenland Ice Sheet in a warming world: Determining drivers of current and future change on northern Greenland outlet glaciers

Supervisors: Dr Rachel Carr (Newcastle University), Professor Chris Stokes (Durham University), Dr G Hilmar Gudmundsson (British Antarctic Survey)

I am a NERC PhD student funded through the IAPETUS Doctoral Training Partnership and case partnered with the British Antarctic Survey, looking into the affects of several external forcing on the retreat of northern Greenland glaciers. The Greenland ice sheet has experienced increased rates of mass loss over the last decade as a result of both ice dynamics and increased surface melt, contributing to approximately 0.6 mm of global sea level rise. With Arctic warming of up to 8°C anticipated during the 21st century, dynamic mass loss and surface melt induced acceleration of the ice sheet could thus have significant implications for increased contributions to global sea level rise in future.

Central-west and south-east areas of Greenland have undergone relatively extensive study of glacier retreat and flow acceleration. Northern Greenland glaciers remain comparatively less studied and given they constitute approximately 40% of Greenland ice sheet area, and several have observed large ice tongue mass losses in recent years, better understanding of their dynamic behaviour and dramatic consequences on sea level rise is paramount.

My PhD project aims to examine all northern Greenland outlet glacier retreat and investigate their relation to variations in atmospheric and oceanic forcing and sea ice extent. At present it remains unknown which of these factors are most influential across northern Greenland as a whole as well as individual glacier sensitivities to these forcing. Satellite imagery will be used to establish outlet glacier retreat over the past 50 years, and then related to atmospheric, oceanic and sea ice data to establish key drivers of past and current glacier fluctuations, as well as potential glacier responses to 21st century climate change. Following this, ice velocity data derived from the MEaSUREs program will be analysed to determine ice velocity response to observed retreat.

The latter stages of the project will involve the use of a two-horizontal dimensional numerical model at the British Antarctic Survey alongside Dr G H Gudmundsson to assess glacier sensitivity to climate change and ice tongue loss. Overall this PhD will hope to provide a long time series of past glacier retreat across the entire of northern Greenland, determine which external drivers led to observed changes, establish the impact of observed retreat on ice velocities, and improve understanding on how these glaciers may be sensitive to climatic changes in the future.