Glaciers are very sensitive to climate and are therefore ideal to study to determine past climate change. Glaciers around the world are retreating at an astonishing rate, but the greatest amount of retreat occurred at the end of the last ice age. The planet underwent global warming by at least 6 °C and this varied significantly regionally. These regional differences provide important clues as to the mechanisms of climate change and how the planet warms.
Improvements in GIS and remote sensing over the last 15 years provide an excellent opportunity to study glaciers to see how they have responded to climate change. A large number of maps of former ice extent have been published over the last 50 years. However, until relatively recently most of these were hand drawn and very few were mapped in GIS. Additionally, large areas of the world still do not have adequate maps of former ice extent. A project in glacier reconstruction involves either digitising existing maps or creating new maps for an area where ice has retreated since the last ice age. Once a glacier is reconstructed, it can then be used to determine the amount that climate has changed.
Dating the retreat of glaciers has historically been very difficult. However, the new technique of exposure dating using cosmogenic nuclides provides an ideal method to directly date rocks left behind by the retreat of ice. The technique is based on the accumulation of very rare elements in rocks produced from interactions with cosmic rays from outer space. Rock samples are processed to isolate the cosmogenic nuclides and then they are measured using accelerator mass spectrometry. Small grants are available through the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) to support dating in a research project.
SCIP210 (Research Report):
Projects are available to review and update the glacial map of Tasmania. Tasmania was extensively glaciated during the last ice age and only small amounts of it have been mapped. Students can contribute to understanding the extent of glaciers and associated climate change in Tasmania through geospatial analysis and photogrammetry.
Projects are available in either:
1) An extended version of the project in SCIP210. The student will work with the supervisor to map an area of glaciation in Tasmania and calculate the climate change that caused the glaciation.
2) Using photogrammetry to calculate the loss of ice from glaciers in Alaska. This is part of a larger project to study the causes of glacier retreat over the last 150 years in Alaska.
Honours and Masters projects:
Glacier reconstruction projects are available for:
1) The Vosges mountains in France
2) The Front Range in Colorado
3) The Sierra Nevada mountains in California
These projects have research funds available for dating or existing dating (~$5000) and would be suitable for writing into a scientific paper. Students are also free to suggest other areas as well. Resources (aerial photos, digital elevation models) are available for Papua New Guinea and Tasmania where there were hundreds of glaciers in the last ice age.
Larger research projects are available for the interaction between glaciers and climate through time. Email me to discuss or suggest a research proposal.
PhD scholarships are available (deadline mid October: contact me at least 6 weeks earlier) for: