Project Highlights:

  • Regional-scale time-dependent reconstructions of the Barents Sea Ice Sheet (BSIS) and remnant ice caps since the last glaciation are hindered by a critical data gap associated with a lack of geological data from the key E-SE Svalbard shelf
  • Multidisciplinary geophysical, geological and micropalaeontological approach to determine the evolution and dynamics of the BSIS.
  • Marine cruise to the E-SE Svalbard shelf and study visits to The University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS).

Establishing a multi-millennial context for contemporary and future glacier and ice cap thinning and recession in Svalbard will help improve our understanding of the long-term significance of this change and the role of atmospheric and/or oceanic forcing. Svalbard was formerly covered by the northern part of the Eurasian Ice Sheet (Barents Sea Ice Sheet; BSIS) during the last glaciation, and subsequent deglacial warming left glaciers and ice caps on the islands during the Holocene.

Existing marine studies have focused on western and northern areas and show it was drained by ice streams. These studies suggest that at a late stage of the deglaciation a dynamic, multi-dome ice sheet may have developed with one ice dispersal dome over easternmost Spitsbergen.  Currently, however, there is considerable uncertainty about the evolution of the BSIS in the east and southeast Svalbard continental shelf, and around the ice cap-covered islands of Edgeøya and Barentsøya, close to this dispersal centre. This is related to the critical and widespread geological data gap in the key area of the E-SE Svalbard continental shelf that combined with conflicting evidence from glacial indicators on surrounding islands hinders regional-scale time-dependent ice sheet and oceanographic modelling and reconstructions. Therefore, our understanding of this key region is limited and there is a pressing need to determine the response of the BSIS and its remnant ice caps to long-term climate and ocean change.

To understand better the evolution and dynamics of BSIS and its links to ocean change, including transformation into the Edgeøya and Barentsøya ice caps and subsequent response to Holocene (including Neoglacial) climate change, there is a need to construct a multi-disciplinary, multi-millennial record of glacial and oceanographic change.  

This PhD project will utilise seafloor and sub-seafloor geomorphology, sedimentology and micropalaeontology in order to construct the records of long-term change for the E-SE Svalbard region. We are looking for an earth science, marine geoscience or geography graduate who is willing to undertake multi-disciplinary research and field work on the E-SE shelf and collaborate with geoscientists at UNIS. The key outcome of this project is to gain a greater understanding of the BSIS and remnant ice cap response to long-term climate and ocean change by addressing two project aims: (1) What was the nature, dynamical-behaviour, forcing-mechanisms and timing of BSIS changes on E-SE Svalbard shelf since the last glaciation? (2) What was the regional landform signature, response and drivers of glacier/ ice cap change during the Holocene and in particular the Neoglacial cooling?

Study area of the east-southeast shelf of Svalbard and ice cap covered islands of Edgeøya and Barentsøya.


The student will participate in a marine cruise to the S-SE Svalbard shelf (Figure 1) to survey the sea-floor using multibeam bathymetry and seismic methods, and collect sediment cores. Extant multibeam and seismic data and sediment cores from the region and held by UNIS will also be examined. These data will be used to identify regional/temporal distribution of glacial landforms associated with regional-scale changing dynamics of the former ice sheet and its transition to, and dynamic response of, ice caps during the Holocene.

Sediment cores to ground-truth key glacial landforms and sediment deposits, and for long-term records of ice sheet change, will be analysed sedimentologically to determine sedimentation processes and patterns. Microfossils will be utilised to assess aquatic community and oceanographic water mass changes coinciding with, and potentially linked to, ice-mass change. Radiocarbon dating will be used to chronologically constrain palaeo-records.

The ice cap marine record will be regionally contextualised by comparison to extant geomorphic records in select fjords to systematically characterise and account for spatial and temporal differences in Neoglacial ice dynamics across Svalbard Archipelago.

Training and Skills

CENTA students are required to complete 45 days training throughout their PhD including a 10 day placement. In the first year, students will be trained as a single cohort on environmental science, research methods and core skills. Throughout the PhD, training will progress from core skills sets to master classes specific to CENTA research themes. 

Training will include multibeam and seismic data processing and analysis, core sediment analysis, and microfossil proxy analysis (e.g. foraminifera and diatoms). This training and the methodological approach to the PhD will develop key skills identified by NERC as ‘most wanted’ for jobs in the environment sector such as multi-disciplinarity, fieldwork and numeracy. Additional training and development will be supported by registering and attending specialised short courses on marine geoscience and Arctic marine geology and geophysics offered by UNIS in Longyearbyen.


Year 1: As fieldwork in Svalbard will not be possible until the summer of 2018, the initial period of the studentship will focus on learning geophysical data analysis and taxonomy of Barents Sea diatoms and foraminifera, and processing and analysing of extant geophysical datasets and sediment cores. This will be coupled with a research visit to UNIS.

Year 2: The fieldwork is planned to take place in the summer of 2018. Processing and analysis of multibeam and seismic data combined with analysis of sediment cores from the shelf of SE Svalbard.

Year 3: Synthesis of a regional reconstruction of the multi-millennial evolution and dynamics of the BSIS since the last glaciation, and dynamical behaviour of local ice caps and Pan-Svalbard ice-mass response to Neoglacial cooling. Write-up will be coupled with a UNIS visit. 

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

Dr Jeffrey Evans has been working on the palaeoglaciology of polar ice sheets for 22 years, including the Barents Sea Ice Sheet, and has extensive experience of fieldwork at sea and working with multi-disciplinary geophysical and geological methodologies and datasets. Dr David Ryves has spent over 20 years working on microfossils, particularly diatoms, and their palaeoenvironmental significance. The student will work with Dr Riko Noormets (UNIS) who has considerable experience of Arctic marine geophysics and geology. UNIS has a primary interest in understanding the long-term change of Svalbard and Arctic ice-masses, and will provide marine geoscience expertise, a berth on a marine cruise to the study area and access to marine geophysical datasets and cores.

Further Details

For information about this project, please contact Dr Jeffrey Evans (j.evans2@lboro.ac.uk).

For enquiries about the application process, contact Mrs Susan Clarke (s.n.clarke@lboro.ac.uk). Please quote CENTA when completing the application form: http://www.lboro.ac.uk/study/apply/research/.