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Poul Christoffersen MSc PhD

University Senior Lecturer

Glaciologist, researching ice sheet dynamics, glaciers interaction with the ocean, and the cryosphere's response to climate change; using remote sensing, surface geophysics and numerical models.




One of the most challenging scientific problems today is the theoretical understanding of climate change, including accurate assessment of future impacts on natural environments. My research focuses on ice sheet dynamics, specifically on the glaciers interaction with the atmosphere and ocean, and on a broad scale the interactions of the cryosphere with Earth's climate system.

Current research in the Arctic includes investigations of Store Glacier in west Greenland, with the aim of understanding the cause of fast flow. The project, which is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), includes hot-water drilling, from which we will gain access to the glacier's basal environment, photogrammetric surveys will unmanned aircraft (UAV), and the development of numerical ice-flow models needed to predict the glacier's response to forcing by ocean as well as atmosphere. Current research in the Arctic, also funded by NERC, includes airborne geophysical surveys over the Greenland Ice Sheet and Canadian ice caps.

Current Antarctic research includes participation in NERC's Ice Sheet Stability programme, which is exploring the cause and consequences of the rapid ice loss from Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica. Research in the Antarctic also includes oceanographic observations in the ocean beneath the Ross Ice Shelf, a large (400,000 km2) floating extension of the Antarctic Ice Sheet. This research is funded by Antarctica New Zealand and the Rutherford Foundation.

PhD research opportunities

Graduate student research opportunities within my research group range from large-scale issues related to the past and future behavior of polar ice sheets, to more specific themes such as basal hydrology, iceberg calving, dynamics of ice motion, and ice-ocean-atmosphere interactions. Current students are: Craig Stewart, who received the Scott Centenary Scholarship and is studying the oceanography of the Ross Ice Shelf cavity using mooring data; Joe Todd who is studying the mechanical coupling of ice flow and calving for glaciers terminating in the ocean; Tun Jan "TJ" Young, who is using phase-sensitive radar to image glacier beds; and Nick Toberg, who is investigating the stabilising effect of proglacial ice melange in front of Greenlandic tidewater glaciers. My past students include Dr. Narelle Baker, who studied the interaction of hydrological and mechanical processes beneath Antarctic ice streams and was able to pinpoint hydrological regimes causing oscillations between fast and stagnant modes of flow; and Dr. Martin O'Leary, who developed a new theoretical model of forced convection in front of tidewater glaciers, to predict rates of subaqueous melting and glaciers' response. Examples of potential new projects are available, but these topics are not definitive. I am happy to discuss project ideas and funding opportunities by e-mail.

MPhil in Polar Studies

I usually supervise one or two students on the MPhil in Polar Studies. This programme differs from many other Masters programmes in that students are encouraged to develop independent research projects from which they can write a scientific paper. Recent dissertations include 'Remote sensing of recent changes in permafrost-influenced wetlands', by Tun Jan "TJ" Young (who is now one of my PhD students); 'Calving stability of Rink Isbræ: Flowline modelling investigation using Elmer FEM' by Joe Todd (who is also one of my PhD students), 'Characterising sikussak and other forms of ice melange in Greenland fjords' by Clare Fraser, 'Relating surface and bed properties of Antarctic ice streams' by Jan de Rydt (continued to do a postdoc at the British Antarctic Survey), 'The effect of ice profile and roughness on melt rates at the ice-ocean interface' by Oliver Marsh (continued to do a PhD at University of Canterbury in New Zealand), 'Southeast Greenland Ice Sheet short term response to environmental conditions', by Anthony Seale (decided to study law - don't ask me why), 'The role of atmospheric and oceanic forcing in Greenland outlet glacier behaviour' by Rachells Carr (continued to do a PhD at Durham University and is now a lecturer at Aberystwyth University)

Research Grants

Subglacial Access and Fast Ice Research Experiment

PI and Co-I: Poul Christoffersen and Marion Bougamont
Funding: Natural Environment Research Council, £257,028 (2013-2016)

PI on Joint Project: Bryn Hubbard (Aberystwyth)

Dynamical Response of Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica (iSTAR-C)

PI and Co-I: Poul Christoffersen and Marion Bougamont
Funding: Natural Environment Research Council, £91,800 (2013-2017) and Isaac Newton Trust, £42,609 (2012-2014)

PI's on Joint Projects: David Vaughan (BAS), Tony Payne (Bristol), Andrew Shepherd (Leeds), Matt King (Newcastle), Robert Bingham (Aberdeen)

Airborne geophysical investigations of conditions at the bed of fast-flowing outlet glaciers of large Canadian Arctic ice caps

PI and Co-I: Julian Dowdeswell and Poul Christoffersen
Funding: Natural Environment Research Council, £540,000 (2013-2016)

Airborne geophysical investigations of basal conditions at flow transitions of outlet glaciers on the Greenland Ice Sheet

PI and Co-I: Julian Dowdeswell and Poul Christoffersen
Funding: Natural Environment Research Council, £809,856 (2010-2013)

PI's on Joint Projects: Martin Siegert (Edinburgh) and Jonathan Bamber (Bristol)

Determining the Dynamical Response of the Greenland Ice Sheet to Climate Forcing using a Geophysical, Remote-Sensing and Numerical Modelling Framework

PI and Co-I: Poul Christoffersen and Marion Bougamont
Funding: Natural Environment Research Council, £88,193 (2009-2012)

PI's on Joint Projects: Alun Hubbard (Aberystwyth) and Bernd Kulessa (Swansea)

Permafrost changes in the Arctic

PI and Co-I: Poul Christoffersen and Julian Dowdeswell
Funding: Eni S.p.A., £521,744 (2008-2012)

Investigating basal conditions and flow dynamics on Vestfonna Ice Cap

PI and Co-I: Poul Christoffersen and Julian Dowdeswell
Funding: Natural Environment Research Council, £53,258 (2008-2009)

Understanding contemporary changes in the Antarctic Ice Sheet

PI and Co-I: Poul Christoffersen and and Marion Bougamont
Funding: Natural Environment Research Council, £165,878 (2007-2010)

PIs on Joint Projects: Tony Payne (Bristol) and Andreas Vieli (Durham)

Identification of subglacial paleolakes in Arctic Canada: geophysical surveys in the Great Slave Lake

PI: Poul Christoffersen
Funding: University Research Fund, £9,000 (2005-2007)


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