Ice sheet-ocean-climate interactions during the Pleistocene Ice Ages

This project is available from the academic year 2024/25 onwards.

Theme: Earth, Atmosphere & Ocean Processes

Primary Supervisor:

David Wilson

Earth Sciences, UCL

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Secondary Supervisor:

Heather Ford

School of Geography, QMUL

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Additional Supervisor(s):
David Thornalley (UCL)

Project Description:

Historical views of the ice sheets as slowly responding parts of the Earth system have increasingly been challenged by palaeoclimate reconstructions. Rapid variability is indicated for the Northern Hemisphere ice sheets during Heinrich Events of the last glacial period, while even the Antarctic Ice Sheet appears to have responded to moderate warming on centennial to millennial timescales. Such behaviour may have been significantly influenced by ocean heat transport, while ice-sheet melting generates significant feedbacks on ocean circulation and climate dynamics.

This project will explore the timescales and processes of interaction between ice sheets, ocean currents, and the climate system during the Pleistocene. Specifically, you will apply radiogenic isotope tracers (e.g. Pb and Nd isotopes) in marine archives, in combination with more conventional paleoceanographic approaches, to constrain key connections in the ocean-climate system. Opportunities include tracing ocean currents and their delivery of heat to ice sheet margins; provenance tracing of ice sheet advance and retreat; and assessing the impact of deglaciation on chemical weathering and nutrient delivery to the oceans.

Research will be carried out in state-of-the-art geochemistry labs and clean rooms within the LOGIC group at UCL. You will develop expertise in marine sediment extractions, chemical separations, and radiogenic isotope analysis by multi-collector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (MC-ICP-MS), while benefiting from the broad palaeoclimate research community in UCL and across London.

This project outline is intentionally open-ended. Please get in touch for further details, or if you have your own ideas for using radiogenic isotopes to understand palaeoclimate dynamics!

Policy Impact of Research:

The observational record of ice sheet dynamics is very short, so paleo-reconstructions are crucial for ground-truthing ice sheet behaviour, validating ice sheet models, and projecting future sea level change. This research will also better constrain the impacts of future cryosphere changes on ocean circulation dynamics and nutrient cycling.

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