Proglacial landscape evolution with climate change across Jostedalsbreen, Norway

Project Summary

Glaciers and ice caps are highly sensitive to climate changes, and they will be key drivers of change for a multitude of natural and societal factors throughout the 21st century. Whilst sea-level rise will undoubtedly be one of the most severe global consequences of future climate changes, regional and local scale impacts will be mediated by subsequent changes in geomorphological and hydrological systems, and the associated societal consequences.


Ice caps differ from valley glaciers in that they cover a larger area and have a different area-altitude relationship because a large proportion of their mass is located on a high plateau with several outlet glaciers extending into adjacent valleys. Consequently, changes in the mass balance of the upper part of the ice cap can have very rapid and profound consequences for the dynamic responses of the outlet glaciers. Due to the complexity of such a glacial system, detailed knowledge of the current ice geometry and surface mass balance is required in order to understand present and future glacier changes as well as for understanding geomorphological and hydrological changes. Changes in mountain geomorphological and hydrological systems must be understood to manage water availability for hydropower, irrigation and human consumption, and glacier retreat will impact tourism and recreational activities.


Studies addressing both the physical changes in the cryosphere and the impact of such changes on the surrounding nature and society are few and often restricted to individual glaciers or certain impacts. To address this important topic on a regional scale, this project will study the largest ice mass in mainland Europe, Jostedalsbreen (c. 474 km2 in 2006) in southern Norway. The ice cap is surrounded by a variety of societal interests such as hydropower, tourism, agriculture and water supply, and with frequent natural hazards such as outburst floods, avalanches and slushflows affecting local infrastructure, business and homes.



This project will most likely be composed around three parts, each novel and publishable in its own right, but together forming a coherent and impactful thesis. The first part will consider past changes to the ice cap and its outlet glaciers, the proglacial landscape and/or the glacier-fed rivers, using extensive historical field monitoring datasets exist as well as remote sensing products for example. The second part will consider present-day processes via extensive and intensive fieldwork, which can include glaciology, geomorphology and hydrology-based methods and techniques. The third part will consider future changes to the glaciers and rivers either via novel numerical modelling, or via analysis of numerical modelling products.


Additionally, the PhD student is expected to benefit from an internship with NVE and/or HVL, interaction with stakeholders such as the national park authority and the relevant hydropower company (Statkraft), and from linking with the ongoing Norwegian Research Council funded JOSTICE project.

Overall, this is an outstanding opportunity for multi-disciplinary science, suitable for an outstanding student who is highly motivated and both scientifically inquisitive as well as technically capable.


Fit to NERC Science

This project is aligned with the NERC aim to understand the impact of climate change. It is aligned with the NERC societal challenge ‘managing environmental change’ by seeking understanding of how the processes of natural variability and human-influenced change work. This project will contribute to the UK’s research ambitions to contribute to our understanding of how the planet works and predict how it will change, and to manage our presence responsibly. This project will also foster international collaboration.


Student profile

The prospective student should have, or expect to receive, a first class BSc degree, or a distinction at Masters level, in an appropriate discipline. They should have interests and experience in most, if not all, of the following topics: geospatial analysis (raster and vector), remote sensing analysis, glacial geomorphology, hydrology, fieldwork in remote and challenging environments. This experience together with other skills and interests that the applicant wishes to develop can be supported by the supervisors and developed during the project. A range of funding sources are available for the project which the candidate can apply to in collaboration with the supervisors.


Skills and training

Training in interdisciplinary research skills will include presenting your ongoing results and receiving constructive feedback from peers in a Research Support Group, from colleagues in the River Basins research cluster, in water@leeds, and at a university postgraduate research day. An additional important part of the research training will be to attend national and international conferences to present results and gain feedback. The student will be encouraged to write and submit papers for publication during the project.


Discipline specific skills will be developed on reconstructing glacier and landscape evolution, on mountain and alpine sediment sources, pathways and sinks, and process geomorphology. Full training in field and office-based techniques will be provided, although it is anticipated that the successful candidate will have a background in geospatial analysis (within GIS), remote sensing, dGPS and fieldwork experience. This project will preferably involve data collection in the field contingent on funding, permits and logistics.

Informal enquiries should be directed to Jonathan Carrivick at j.l.carrivick(at)
Enquiries relating to the application process and funding can be sent to Jacqui Manton (j.manton(at)