Current CCC Research Projects
Our research encompasses a broad and diverse range of projects concerned with the Cryosphere and Climate Change, and
reflects the complementary interests and wide-ranging expertise of CCC members.
Here, for convenience, we have grouped ongoing projects into five themes with associated staff members.
Note, however, that often the listed projects fit into more than one theme.
You can also follow up details of our interests and projects in the Publications page, or please contact the relevant
member of staff for more details.
Research in this theme explores the complex interactions between elements of the cryosphere
(e.g. ice sheets, glaciers, sea ice) and changes in past, present and future climate.
Mass and density changes of the Greenland Ice Sheet and Devon Ice Cap:
ESA's "CryoSat2" aims to monitor changes in the Earth's land and marine based ice fluxes, thereby determining the
response of the Earth's ice sheets, glaciers and sea ice to changes in global climate. We are coordinating ongoing ground
measurements of temporal and spatial variability in the surface and near-surface structure and density of the Greenland Ice
Sheet and Devon Ice Cap in High Arctic Canada. Results are being used to (a) calibrate and validate elevation changes made
with CryoSat2 and (b) determine the significance of melting, percolation and refreezing processes on ice-sheet and ice-cap
(Funding: NERC, European Space Agency, SAGES Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment and Society)
Plateau icefields and climate change:
Plateau icefields are found in many currently glacierized regions. Plateaux tend to act as ice source areas during the marginal phases of glaciation making them ideal for deriving proxy climate data, from ice mass geometry, during periods of ice growth and ice retreat. Field research on contemporary plateau icefields has included work on basal ice flow in subglacial cavities, sediment erosion, transport and deposition, basal-ice chemistry, and the reconstruction of ice masses and deglaciation chronologies.
Pine Island Glacier: dynamics, flow history and potential for further rapid change:
Geomorphology and Geochronology
Remote sensing measurements since the 1990s have revealed that Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica is experiencing rapid rates of thinning and acceleration which, if they continue their present trend, will see the glacier contribute ~ 24 cm to sea level rise over the next century. Working with members of the Ice Sheets group at the British Antarctic Survey, we are investigating the possible causes of such behaviour and the likely future of the glacier. The research uses a combination of remote sensing, field geophysics and ice-sheet modelling techniques.
Research in this theme aims to use the landforms and landscapes produced by past ice sheets and glaciers to help
construct deglaciation chronologies, and thereby constrain efforts to link previous ice-mass behaviours to past climates.
Deglaciation chronologies are strengthened with the aid of geochronological dating techniques, such as luminescence and
Surging glacier landsystems:
This project focused initially on the development of, and more recently on the refining and application of, a surging glacier landsystems model. The landsystem model was developed from research undertaken at the margins of contemporary surging glaciers and is an integration of stratigraphical, sedimentological, geomorphological, palaeo-geographical and glaciological data. Application of this model to deglaciated landscapes for the identification of former surging glacier margins in currently in progress. Recent work has focused on the mechanics of full-depth ice fracture during glacier surging and the formation of crevasse-squeeze ridges.
Pleistocene alpine glaciation:
The Western Alps, and the Maritime Alps in particular, represent an area of high interest for palaeo-glaciological and climatological studies, given their southern position within Europe and exceptional proximity to the Mediterranean Sea (only 40 km) in comparison to the rest of the chain. The project, in collaboration with the University of Pisa (Italy) and Prime Lab (Purdue University, USA), aims to date the most relevant advance phases of the glaciers that occupied this Alpine sector from the LGM onward. The research involves field mapping, moraine boulder sampling, sample preparation and cosmogenic dating. The results are allowing us to analyze how local climatic conditions might have influenced the extent and timing of the Pleistocene Maritime Alps glaciers.
Luminescence dating and particle size analyses of glacial sediments:
The Buchan area of north-east Scotland has been the focus for many years of debate as to whether or not it was glaciated during the Devensian glaciation. This project uses luminescence dating to help resolve the chronology of the events revealed in the stratigraphy. Luminescence dates obtained from glacial/fluvioglacial sediment samples suggest the possibility of a glacial episode affecting parts of Buchan between c. 80 kya and 31 kya. Dates associated with the deposition of deltaic sediments in the Ugie Valley of central Buchan raise the possibility that either any such glacial episode was non-erosive or that parts of Buchan escaped glaciation altogether during the Devensian. Further samples are presently undergoing luminescence dating.
Constructing Late Quaternary tsunami chronologies using sedimentary data:
Research is aimed at using sedimentary data in order to identify palaeotsunamis. Most attention is dedicated to the identification of past tsunami that took place during the Late Quaternary. Active research is presently taking place in the Shetland Isles where at least 3 tsunamis are now known to have taken place during the Holocene. The research activities are allied to the application of dating methods to the establishment of tsunami chronologies together with an clearer understanding of the limitations associated with conventional methods of dating (e.g. radiocarbon , luminescence).
Recent coastal change and flood risk in South Uist and Benbecula, Scottish Outer Hebrides:
Palaeoclimate and Palaeoglaciology
This project is investigating the recent coastal evolution of the Atlantic coastline of South Uist and Benbecula in the Scottish Outer Hebrides in the wake of the "Great Storm" of January 2005. The project is using geomorphological and stratigraphical investigations to establish the response of the machair-dominated coastal dune and barrier island landforms to North Atlantic storms. This project is funded through the Scottish Government by Comhairlie nan Eilan Siar (Western Isles Council) and involves partners at the Universities of Dundee and St Andrews, the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and JBA Consulting.
Understanding past climates - "palaeoclimates" - is vital in the quest to understand long-term population movements and
human impacts, which feed back into environmental and climate change in many parts of the world. Our palaeoclimate research
has a particular focus on the North Atlantic region. We are also interested in elucidating the interactions between
palaeoclimates and palaeoglaciological reconstructions.
Reconstructing Little Ice Age climate for Scotland using instrumental weather data:
The project seeks to use for the first time, daily weather records for Scotland starting ca. AD 1770 to reconstruct the climate of Scotland for the middle- and later stages of the Little Ice Age. The project is part of a larger international programme (ACRE) concerned with the reconstruction of past atmospheric circulation patterns over the Earth (ACRE) involving partners in Queensland, the UK Met Office, Colorado, Giessen and Bern.
Geometry and history of the (palaeo) Uummannaq Ice Stream, NW Greenland:
The palaeo-Uummannaq Ice Stream system in NW Greenland drained ~10% of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) at the Last Glacial Maximum and was (and still is) equivalent in mass flux to the Jakobshavns Isbrae drainage system directly to the south. Geomorphological mapping, Terrestrial Cosmogenic Nuclide (TCN) analyses, luminescence dating, and 14C are being utilised to develop a robust retreat chronology and ice stream geometry. 1D equilibrium and heat conduction models are used to determine ice fluxes and basal thermal regimes. Forcing of the retreat will be determined using the chronology with oceanic and atmospheric proxy records from marine and ice core records.
(Funding: NERC, Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, University of Aberdeen)
Relative dating of the Storegga submarine slide, methane gas hydrate release and the ca. 8,200 cal yr cold interval:
This project is exploring the timing of the Storegga submarine slide in relation to Greenland ice core records of methane gas concentration changes across the ca. 8,200 cal yr cold period. The project considers relations between the timing of the Storegga slide and Greenland ice core chemistry records of regional climate in relation to the ‘clathrate gun’ hypothesis of climate change. This project involves partners from Norway and Canada.
Reconstructing North Atlantic Holocene palaeoclimates using GISP2 ice core chemistry data:
Remote Sensing of Cryosphere
Making use of high-resolution time series of seasalt Na+, non-seasalt K+, deuterium and deuterium excess,
this project is investigating the importance of climate "seesaws" between Greenland and northern Europe that constrain
the extent to which Greenland ice core time series can be used as indicative of palaeoclimate changes across northern Europe.
The study of the Cryosphere is increasingly focussing on the large-scale and remote environments, where traditional fieldwork
techniques are difficult or impossible to apply. In consequence, we are tackling, for example, the study of polar ice sheets,
and continental-scale glacial geomorphology, using a suite of remote
sensing tools including satellite data, airborne and ground-based geophysical techniques such as radar, and Geographical
Information Systems (GIS).
Using remote sensing and GIS to investigate drumlins and MSGL:
Drumlins are likely the most studied landforms in glacial geomorphology (>1400 papers), and yet it is not clear how they are formed. Mega Scale Glacial Lineations, "discovered" more recently, are often considered, like drumlins, to represent information on past ice flow. However, there are many uncertainties in previous interpretation of drumlin and MSGl formation, which can often be related to the earlier use of outdated analytical techniques and undersampling of the landforms. This project uses a suite of GIS tools and DTM data to analyse drumlins and MSGL 2 and 3D morphometric properties in general and the spatial distribution of these properties within a landform swarm in particular. The aim is that of creating a solid data-based framework of information on drumlin morphometry that could be used as a tool to (i) challenge previous drumlin formation hypotheses and (ii) develop and/or test any numerical model of drumlin formation.
Investigating ice flow into Eltanin Bay, Bellingshausen Sea, West Antarctica:
This work is using glacial geophysical methods to assess the extent to which ocean warming is inducing accelerated transfer of inland ice to the ocean in West Antarctica. Collaborating with members of the Ice Sheets group at the British Antarctic Survey, the goal is to quantify the response of inland ice in the Eltanin Bay region to a known oceanic forcing. Results will be used to improve our understanding of ice-ocean interactions in a poorly known yet rapidly changing sector of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
(Funding: NERC Antarctic Funding Initiative)
Research in this theme is concerned with exploring and improving our understanding of one of our planet's last great
frontiers: the environment beneath ice sheets and glaciers. Projects deploy state of the art techniques in remote sensing
and fieldwork in a mission to inform numerical models of ice flow essential for predicting future ice-mass behaviour and
contribution to future global sea level.
Basal boundary conditions for Institute and Moller Ice Streams, West Antarctica:
The Institute and Moller ice streams (IIS/MIS) drain about 20% of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) to the Ronne Ice Shelf, yet our knowledge of their current form and flow history is severely restricted compared with other fast flowing regions in West Antarctica. In collaboration with the University of Edinburgh, British Antarctic Survey and the University of York, an extensive aerogeophysical survey is being conducted across this enigmatic region of the WAIS, with the ultimate aim of deriving boundary conditions essential for modelling the future form and flow of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
(Funding: NERC Antarctic Funding Initiative)
Hydrology and dynamics of the Greenland Ice Sheet:
This research focuses on obtaining a better understanding of the basal and internal processes which influence ice sheet dynamics. Ongoing research on the Greenland Ice Sheet aims to characterise the coupling between surface meltwater and ice dynamics and its temporal and spatial evolution continuously over several annual cycles. The field experiments, in conjunction with remotely sensed data, focus on two flow-parallel transects at the western margin of the GrIS in land and marine terminating catchments (Leverett/Russell Glacier and Kangiata Nunata Sermia respectively). Motion characteristics are compared with hydrological results to determine how glacier hydrology exerts control on variations in ice motion.
(Funding: NERC, Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland)
Investigations of basal roughness beneath continental-scale ice sheets:
The roughness of the bed beneath an ice sheet may impart significant controls on the speed and direction of overflowing ice, and may in turn be shaped by erosional and depositional processes. Ongoing research aims to utilise radar data and digital elevation data to assess the roughness of both modern and palaeo-ice sheet beds and relate roughness signatures to ice-dynamical features and subglacial properties.
3D patterns of stress and velocity in glaciers:
In the Alps, field research has been undertaken at Haut Glacier d'Arolla, Valais, Switzerland over fourteen years from 1994-2007 including measurements of subglacial water pressures, substrate strength and rates of deformation, basal motion, internal motion and surface motion. Results have been analysed to help develop and constrain first order 3-D models of glacier flow.
(Funding: NERC, Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland)