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Poul Christoffersen MSc PhD

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 glacier geophysics, borehole instrumentation and numerical models.



  • 2007 to present: Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge
  • 2004-2006, Lecturer, University of Wales, Aberystwyth
  • 2003-2004, Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • 2000-2003, Postgraduate studies, Technical University of Denmark and University of California, Santa Cruz
  • 1998-1999, Geologist, Coffey Geosciences, Melbourne, Australia


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.

I am always happy to discuss project ideas and funding opportunities by e-mail, skype or telephone.

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 'Flow characteristics, setting and basal boundary condition of North Greenland outlet glaciers', by Thomas Perry; '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 (SAFIRE)

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)


  • Doyle, S.H., A. Hubbard, R.S.W van de Wal, et al., Amplified melt and flow of the Greenland Ice Sheet driven by late-summer cyclonic rainfall, Nature Geoscience, advanced online publication, DOI: 10.1038/NGEO2482.
  • Carr, J. R., A. Vieli, , C. R. Stokes, S. S. R. Jamieson, , S. J. Palmer, P. Christoffersen, J.A. Dowdeswell, F.M. Nick, D. D. Blankenship, D.A. Young, Basal topographic controls on rapid retreat of Humboldt Glacier, northern Greenland, Journal of Glaciology Volume: 61 Issue: 225 Pages: 137-150, DOI: 10.3189/2015JoG14J128
  • Ryan, J. C., A. L. Hubbard, J. E. Box, J. Todd, P. Christoffersen, J. R. Carr, T. O. Holt, N. Snooke, UAV photogrammetry and structure from motion to assess calving dynamics at Store Glacier, a large outlet draining the Greenland Ice Sheet, Cryosphere, 9, 1–11, doi:10.5194/tc-9-1-2015, 2015 (Open access)
  • Todd, J., P. Christoffersen, Are seasonal calving dynamics forced by buttressing from ice mélange or undercutting by melting? Outcomes from Full Stokes simulations of Store Gletscher, West Greenland, Cryosphere, 8, 2353–2365, doi:10.5194/tc-8-2353-2014, 2014 (Open access)
  • Bougamont, M., P. Christoffersen, A. L. Hubbard, A. A. Fitzpatrick, S. H. Doyle, S. P. Carter, Sensitive response of the Greenland Ice Sheet to surface melt drainage over a soft bed, Nature Communications, 5, 5052-5052, doi:10.1038/ncomms6052, 2014. (Open access)
  • Chauche, N., A. Hubbard, J. C. Gascard, J. E. Box, R. Bates, M. Koppes, A. Sole, P. Christoffersen, H. Patton, Ice-ocean interaction and calving front morphology at two west Greenland tidewater outlet glaciers, Cryosphere, 8(4), 1457-1468, doi:10.5194/tc-8-1457-2014, 2014. (Open access)
  • Christoffersen, P., M. Bougamont, S.P. Carter, H.A. Fricker, S. Tulaczyk, Significant groundwater contribution to Antarctic ice streams hydrologic budget, Geophysical Research Letters, 41, doi:10.1002/2014GL059250, 2014. (Open access)
  • Cowan, E., P. Christoffersen, R.D. Powell, F.M. Talarico, Dynamics of the late Plio–Pleistocene West Antarctic Ice Sheet documented in subglacial diamictites, AND-1B drill core, Global and Planetary Change, 119, 156-170, 2014.
  • Beem, L., S. Tulaczyk, M.A. King, M. Bougamont, H.A. Fricker, and P. Christoffersen, Variable deceleration of Whillans Ice Stream, West Antarctica, Journal of Geophysical Research, 119, 212-224, doi:10.1002/2013JF002958, 2014.
  • Palmer, S.J., J.A. Dowdeswell, P. Christoffersen, D. A. Young, D.D. Blankenship, J.S. Greenbaum, T. Benham, J. Bamber, and M.J. Siegert, Greenland subglacial lakes detected by radar, Geophysical Research Letters, 40, 6154-6159, doi:10.1002/2013GL058383, 2014.
  • Van der Wel, N., P. Christoffersen, M. Bougamont, The influence of subglacial hydrology on the flow of Kamb Ice Stream, West Antarctica, Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 118, 1-14, doi:10.1029/2012JF002570, 2013.
  • De Rydt, J., G. H. Gudmundsson, H. F. J. Corr, P. Christoffersen, Surface undulations of Antarctic ice streams tightly controlled by bedrock topography, The Cryosphere, 7, 407-417, doi:10.5194/tc-7-407-2013, 2013. (Open access)
  • O'Leary, M. and P. Christoffersen, Calving on tidewater glaciers amplified by submarine frontal melting, The Cryosphere, 7, 119-128, doi:10.5194/tc-7-119-2013, 2012. (open access)
  • Bougamont, M. and P. Christoffersen, Hydrologic forcing of ice stream flow promotes rapid transport of sediment in basal ice, Geology, 40, 735-738, doi:10.1130/G33036.1, 2012.
  • Christoffersen, P., M. O'Leary, J. H. van Angelen, M. van den Broeke, Partitioning effects from ocean and atmosphere on the calving stability of Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier, East Greenland, Annals of Glaciology, 53, 249-256, 2012.
  • Cowan, E., P. Christoffersen, R. Powell, Sedimentological signature of a deformable bed preserved beneath an ice stream in a late Pleistocene glacial sequence, Ross Sea, Antarctica, Journal of Sedimentary Research, 82, 270-282, 2012.
  • Schäfer, M., T. Zwinger, P. Christoffersen, F. Gillet-Chaulet, K. Laakso, R. Pettersson, V. A. Pohjola, T. Strozzi, and J. C. Moore, Sensitivity of basal conditions in an inverse model: Vestfonna Ice-Cap, Nordaustlandet/Svalbard, The Cryosphere, 6, 771-783, 2012. (open access)
  • Kargel, J.S. and 15 others incl. P. Christoffersen, Greenland's shrinking ice cover: "fast times" but not that fast, Cryosphere, 6, 533-537, 2012. (open access)
  • Bougamont, M., S. Price, P. Christoffersen, A. J. Payne, Dynamic patterns of ice stream flow in a 3D higher-order ice sheet model with plastic bed and simplified hydrology, Journal of Geophysical Research, 116, F04018, doi:10.1029/2011JF002025.
  • Christoffersen, P., R. I. Mugford, K. J. Heywood, I. Joughin, J. A. Dowdeswell, J. P. M. Syvitski, A. Luckman, T. J. Benham, Warming of waters in an East Greenland fjord prior to glacier retreat: mechanisms and connection to large-scale atmospheric conditions, The Cryosphere, 5, 701–714, 2011. (open access)
  • Seale, A., P. Christoffersen, R. I. Mugford, M. O'Leary, Ocean forcing of the Greenland Ice Sheet: Calving fronts and patterns of retreat identified by automatic satellite monitoring of eastern outlet glaciers, Journal of Geophysical Research, 116, F03013, doi:10.1029/2010JF001847, 2011.
  • Pettersson, R., P. Christoffersen, J. A. Dowdeswell, V. A. Pohjola, A. Hubbard, T. Strozzi, Ice thickness and basal conditions of Vestfonna Ice Cap, eastern Svalbard, Geografiska Annaler A-Physical Geography, 93A, 311-322, doi:10.1111/j.1468-0459.2011.00438.x, 2011
  • Pohjola, V. A., P. Christoffersen, L. Kolondra, J. C. Moore, R. Pettersson, M. Schafer, T. Strozzi, C. Reijmer, Spatial distribution and change in the surface ice-velocity field of Vestfonna Ice Cap, Nordaustlandet, Svalbard, 1995-2010, using geodetic and satellite interferometry data, Geografiska Annaler A-Physical Geography, 93A, 323-335 doi:10.1111/j.1468-0459.2011.00441.x, 2011
  • Lim, J., J. Woodward, S. Tulaczyk, P. Christoffersen, S. P. Cummings, Analysis of the microbial community and geochemistry of a sediment core from Great Slave Lake, Canada, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek Journal of General and Molecular Microbiology, 99, 423-430, 2011.
  • Christoffersen, P., S. Tulaczyk, A. Behar, Basal ice sequences in Antarctic ice stream: exposure of past hydrologic conditions and a principal mode of sediment transfer, Journal of Geophysical Research, F03034, doi:10.1029/2009JF001430, 2010.
  • Christoffersen, P., S. Tulaczyk, N. Wattrus, J. Peterson, N. Quintana-Krupinski, C. Clark and C. Sjunneskog, Large Subglacial lake beneath the Laurentide Ice Sheet inferred from sedimentary sequences, Geology, 36, 563-568, 2008.
  • Christoffersen, P., S. Tulaczyk, F. Carsey, and A. Behar, 2007, Reply to comment by A. W. Rempel et al. on "A quantitative framework for interpretation of basal ice facies formed by ice accretion over subglacial sediment", Journal of Geophysical Research, F02037, doi:10.1029/2006JF000732.
  • The Lake Ellsworth Consortium, 2007, Exploration of Ellsworth Subglacial Lake: a concept paper on the development, organisation and execution of an experiment to explore, measure and sample the environment of a West Antarctic subglacial lake, Reviews in Environmental Science and Biotechnology, 6, 161-179.
  • Larsen, N.K., J.A. Piotrowski, P. Christoffersen, and J. Menzies, 2006, Formation and deformation of basal till during a glacier surge, Elisebreen, Svalbard, Geomorphology, 81, 217-234.
  • Christoffersen, P., S. Tulaczyk, F. Carsey, and A. Behar, 2006, A quantitative framework for interpretation of basal ice facies formed by ice accretion over subglacial sediment, Journal of Geophysical Research, F01017, doi:10.1029/2005JF000363.
  • Christoffersen, P., J.A. Piotrowski and N.K. Larsen, 2005, Basal processes beneath an Arctic glacier and their geomorphic imprint after a surge, Elisebreen, Svalbard, Quaternary Research, 64, 125-137.
  • Christoffersen, P. and S. Tulaczyk, 2003a, Signature of palaeo-ice stream stagnation: till consolidation induced by basal freeze-on, Boreas, 32(1), 114-129.
  • Christoffersen, P. and S. Tulaczyk, 2003b, Thermodynamics of basal freeze-on: predicting basal and subglacial signatures beneath stopped ice streams and interstream ridges, Annals of Glaciology, 36, 233-243.
  • Christoffersen, P. and S. Tulaczyk, 2003c, Response of subglacial sediments to basal freeze-on: I. Theory and comparison to observations from beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 108, 2222, doi:10.1029/2002JB001935.

News, magazines and popular science

Books and book sections

  • Bentley, M., P. Christoffersen, D. Hodgson, A. Smith, S. Tulaczyk, A. Le Brocq, Subglacial lake sediments and sedimentary processes: potential archives of ice sheet evolution, past environmental change and the presence of life, In Antarctic Subglacial Aquatic Environments, Geophysical Monograph Series, 192, American Geophysical Union, pp. 83-110, 2011.
  • Christoffersen, P., Greenland Ice Sheet, in Encyclopedia of Snow, Ice and Glaciers, Springer, 2011.
  • Hambrey, M.J., P. Christoffersen, N.F. Glasser and B. Hubbard, Glacial Sedimentation Processes and Products, International Association of Sedimentologists, Special Publication, vol. 39, pp. 416.