NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship: Glacial Lake Outburst Floods and climate change in the Himalayas

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Science

Penryn Campus, Cornwall

Main supervisor: Dr Stephan Harrison (Geography, University of Exeter)

Most mountain glaciers have been undergoing recent retreat largely as a consequence of global warming and the rate of recession has increased over the past decades. Because glaciers are coupled to their slope and valley-floor geomorphic systems, recession impacts upon these in a number of complex ways, producing a range of natural hazards that have severe impacts on downstream communities and infrastructure. The most important of these are glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs). These are associated with the catastrophic drainage of glacial lakes created by glacier recession. These lakes are often dammed by moraines, many of which contain a melting ice core, and these fail suddenly as the lakes increase in size. In many mountain regions the resulting floods are a significant natural hazard. For instance, in Peru at least 24 outburst floods from glacial lakes have occurred in the last 150 years, killing some 6000 people. One important side-effect of GLOFs is the reduction of downstream economic and infrastructure development. As much of this economic development is for energy production so outburst floods impose an additional burden on regional development, outside the narrow mountain valleys.

Mitigation of GLOFs also imposes additional costs on mountain regions and, in developing countries, this impacts upon the most marginalized communities. Although much research has been carried out on the nature and characteristics of GLOFs from many of the world’s mountain regions there are a number of significant gaps in our knowledge of these phenomena. These include understanding how quickly lakes and GLOFs evolve and the role of debris supply on glacier surfaces in driving lake development. Filling these gaps should be a priority given the very rapid nature of glacier retreat in the world’s mountains and the potential impact this will have on glacier hazards. This project will work with the UK Met Office, insurers (e.g. Lloyd’s of London) and development agencies such as Oxfam to assess the nature of GLOFs and use climate data and downscaled climate models to provide a better understanding of their current behaviour and likely future evolution. A number of field sites exist in the Himalaya and it is expected that the student would undertake fieldwork at several GLOF sites and glacier lakes systems.

This is one of a number of studentships that encompass the breadth of earth and environmental sciences are being offered to start in September 2017 at Exeter. The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,296 per annum for 2016-2017, 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.

See please for more details on how to apply.

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