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PhD Studentship: Glaciers and Future Water Supplies in the Himalayas, NERC GW4+ DTP PhD Studentship for 2022 Entry, PhD in Geography

University of Exeter - Department of Geography

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Exeter
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: Tuition fees and stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,609 p.a. for 2021/22)
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 21st October 2021
Closes: 10th January 2022
Reference: 4248

Funding: Also covers research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses and a training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.

Location: Streatham Campus, University of Exeter, Exeter, Devon 

Lead Supervisor: Dr Steven Palmer, University of Exeter, Geography (Streatham) 

Additional Supervisors

Prof Stephan Harrison, University of Exeter, Geography (Penryn)

Dr Johanna Scheidegger, British Geological Survey

Dr Jonathan Mackay, British Geological Survey

Dr Karen Anderson, University of Exeter, Geography (Penryn) 

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 five Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training and designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science http://nercgw4plus.ac.uk/

Project Background

Nearly 20 per cent of the world’s population depends on the freshwater rivers fed by glaciers in the Himalayas. Recent observations have shown most Himalayan bare-ice glaciers are melting rapidly (Bolch et al 2012), and meanwhile, other work shows that there is a trend towards increasing glacial debris-cover in the Himalaya (and worldwide). Conversely, there is very little information about state of both debris-covered glaciers, and rock glaciers in the Himalayan region, both of which are known to be widespread. As a result, the current and future contributions of melting ice to the Himalayan river basins fails to account for water stored within these poorly understood features, and thus is highly uncertain. This is of prime importance because declining water availability will negatively impact agricultural productivity, energy production and the health of downstream populations (Shannon et al 2019). Ultimately, disruptions to the freshwater supply from melting ice could threaten the food security of more than 70 million people.

Project Aims and Methods

While the distribution and characteristics of Himalayan bare-ice glaciers can be assessed using satellite remote sensing (Bolch et al 2012), the same is not true for debris-covered and rock glaciers because unlike ice glaciers, they exhibit similar albedo to the surrounding geology, making them challenging to map automatically. Therefore, current understanding of the nature, distribution and evolution of both debris-covered glaciers and rock glaciers in the Himalaya is incomplete. Critically, while previous research conducted by members of the supervisory team has established that thousands of rock glaciers exist in the Himalayas (Jones et al 2018), we have no information on their ice content. As a result, we are currently unable to make assessments of their sensitivity to current and future changes in climate, and therefore how their contributions to downstream water supplies are likely to change (Jones et al 2019). In addition, we have little knowledge of how quickly some glaciers undergo the transition from debris-covered glaciers to rock glaciers and cannot yet fully explain why some glaciers undergo this transition while others do not (Knight et al 2019).

More information is available on the advert posted on the University’s website.

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