October 4, 2022

Ice ablation controlled by natural and anthropogenic particles

The summit glacier of Sollipulli Volcano in Chile in 1993, showing dirty ice and two people surveying the surface snow topography

Glaciers and ice sheets store 77% of Earth’s freshwater and are key for utility supply, irrigation, and hydropower. Effective water-resource planning for a sustainable Earth in a changing climate, and hazard mitigation of glaciated areas, depend upon a sophisticated knowledge of the status of ice and the mechanisms that cause it to change. Understanding the way in which glaciers, ice sheets and sea ice change is critical for the development of predictive global climate models.

Supraglacial and intraglacial debris, i.e. material on top of and within ice respectively, is common on Earth. It is well known that supraglacial solid particles (e.g. microplastics, black carbon, volcanic deposits, meteorites, scree, and windblown dust) can alter the ablation (i.e. removal) rate of ice; thick layers insulate ice, and thin layers enhance ice melt. What is not known is the impact that dispersions of intraglacial particles have on ablation.

Through laboratory and theoretical modelling at Lancaster University and the British Geological Survey, this project aims to (1) comprehend the micro-scale processes as dirty ice at its pressure melting point is exposed to a shortwave radiation source (cf the Sun), (2) incorporate new process understanding into  models to assess implications of intraglacial particles for global ice melt, and (3) determine the likely different ways in which volcanic ash and microplastic particles segregate and accumulate within ice. Volcanic ash has been deposited on, and incorporated into, ice through much of Earth’s history. Microplastics have recently become abundant in the environment and are increasingly in the media spotlight.

This project will provide an exclusive, person-specific, portfolio of training in glaciology, volcanology, analogue experimentation, computer modelling, scientific writing and key ‘life skills’. This is a unique opportunity to undertake research in global change science of the cryosphere.

Applicants should hold a minimum of a BSc honours degree at upper second-class level, or equivalent, in a subject such as physics, engineering, chemistry, environmental science, physical geography, natural sciences or Earth sciences. Applicants with a Masters degree and/or relevant research experience will be highly competitive. A strong interest in laboratory experiments and computer modelling is needed. Experience of hands-on building of laboratory equipment would be an advantage although is not essential.

For further details, or to enquire about eligibility, please send a short statement summarising your background and interest in the project, with your cv, to Dr Jennie Gilbert (