PhD Studentship: Investigating the Marine Record of Pleistocene Ice and Climate Variability Offshore of South Georgia Island, Sub-Antarctica - Geography PhD (NERC GW4+ DTP Funded)

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Sciences

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership.  The GW4+ DTP consists of the GW4 Alliance of the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter plus six Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Met Office, Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide 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 for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.


Lead supervisor: Dr. Alastair G.C. Graham
Co-Supervisor: Dr. Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand
Co-Supervisor: Dr. Gerhard Kuhn
Co-Supervisor: Prof. Gerhard Bohrmann
Co-Supervisor: Prof. Dominic Hodgson

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.

Project aims

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.

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2018 entry. The studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-18.

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South West England