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James Kirkham BSc, MPhil

James Kirkham BSc, MPhil

PhD Candidate

I am a PhD student working at the Scott Polar Research Institute and the British Antarctic Survey. My current research uses marine geophysical techniques to reconstruct the movement of water beneath the late Quaternary ice sheets. I also have an active interest in high-altitude snow dynamics and the water cycle of the Himalayas.



  • 2017-2018: Researcher, Cryosphere Initiative. International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Kathmandu, Nepal.


  • 2016-2017: MPhil Polar Studies, University of Cambridge
  • 2013-2016: BSc Geography, Durham University

Awards and scholarships

  • B.B. Roberts Award (2019)
  • Corpus Christi College Research Grant (2018)
  • Cambridge Earth System Science Doctoral Training Partnership, Natural Environmental Research Council (2018-2022)
  • Scott Polar Research Institute Debenham Scholarship (2016)
  • Royal Geographical Society Quantitative Methods Research Group Prize (2016)
  • W.B. Fisher Prize (2016)
  • Vice-Chancellor's Scholarship for Academic Excellence (2014)
  • Vice-Chancellor's Scholarship for Academic Excellence (2013)
  • Durham University Geography Fieldwork prize (2013)


The movement of water beneath ice sheets is a fundamental, but poorly constrained, factor controlling their mass loss rates and, accordingly, sea-level rise. I study landforms created by subglacial meltwater in the past to learn more about how water moves beneath ice sheets today. My current research combines ship-borne multibeam echo-sounding surveying and numerical modelling to understand the production, routing, and mechanisms of water flow beneath the past Antarctic Ice Sheet with particular attention to Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers, West Antarctica. In the northern hemisphere, I am investigating the formation and infill of buried tunnel valleys in the North Sea using industry-acquired ultrahigh resolution three-dimensional seismic data. An understanding of the features produced by water flow beneath former ice sheets provides a basis with which the representation of subglacial hydrology in numerical ice sheet models can be improved.


  • Kirkham, J. D., Hogan, K. A., Larter, R. D., Arnold, N. S., Nitsche, F. O., Golledge, N. R., and Dowdeswell, J. A. (2019). Past water flow beneath Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers, West Antarctica. The Cryosphere.
  • Kirkham, J.D., Koch, I., Saloranta, T.M., Litt, M., Stigter, E.E., Møen, K., Thapa, A., Melvold, K. and Immerzeel, W.W. (2019). Near Real-Time Measurement of Snow Water Equivalent in the Nepal Himalayas. Frontiers in Earth Science. 7:177.
  • Saloranta, T., Thapa, A., Kirkham, J.D., Koch, I., Melvold, K., Stigter, E., Litt, M. and Møen, K., 2019. A model setup for mapping snow conditions in high-mountain Himalaya. Frontiers in Earth Science, 7:129.
  • Larter, R.D., Hogan, K.A., Hillenbrand, C.D., Smith, J.A., Batchelor, C.L., Cartigny, M., Tate, A.J., Kirkham, J.D., Roseby, Z.A., Kuhn, G. and Graham, A.G. (2019). Subglacial hydrological control on flow of an Antarctic Peninsula palaeo-ice stream. The Cryosphere. 13(6), pp.1583-1596.
  • Kirkham, J.D., Rosser, N.J., Wainwright, J., Jones, E.C.V., Dunning, S.A., Lane, V.S., Hawthorn, D.E., Strzelecki, M.C. and Szczucinski, W. (2017). Drift-dependent changes in iceberg size-frequency distributions. Scientific reports, 7(1), 15991.

External activities

  • Steering committee member: International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration Early Career Retreat (2019).