Understanding glacier dynamic change and iceberg risk evolution in Greenland


Project summary: Greenland’s marine terminating glaciers are undergoing rapid change, though how this impacts iceberg risks to settlements and current/future social and economic activities in fjords is currently poorly understood. Initially focussing on Narsap Sermia (SW Greenland) and its impact on Greenland’s largest city and port (Nuuk), this project will use a combination of remote sensing and novel field data collection to understand how glacier dynamic change translates to evolving iceberg risks. It will then seek to apply these findings at a Greenland-wide scale.

Background: The Greenland ice sheet is currently the largest contributor to global sea level change, with approximately half of ice loss accounted for by iceberg calving from tidewater glaciers. However, as these glaciers retreat following decades (occasionally centuries) of stability, they have the potential to present new, never seen before risks to the people who live and work near them.

Narsap Sermia is located approximately 100 km from the city and port of Nuuk, and after >200 years of stability has increased its ice loss through calving by nearly 200% since 2010. The glacier’s current ice front is also located at the edge of a topographic overdeepening meaning that ice discharge could increase still further if retreat continues. In the last 10 years Nuuk’s population has increased substantially and is projected to double by 2040, while continued expansion of its port and the potential opening of the Northwest Passage will also lead to the waters around Nuuk becoming more busy in the future. Understanding future risk evolution to the people and port of Nuuk posed by Narsap’s ongoing retreat is therefore critical to the safety of local and international human activities and the natural environments that are impacted by its behaviour.

Project activity: This project will use a combination of (i) remote sensing data within Google Earth Engine cloud computing environment; (ii) field data from the Liverpool-Asiaq Glacier Observatory (LAGO), including: time lapse camera imagery (2018-present); automatic weather station data (2022-present); and novel in-situ velocity and melt observations (to be deployed this summer); and (iii) use of climate reanalysis data. These different data sources will be combined to understand the recent behaviour of Narsap and potentially other Greenlandic glaciers through creation of transferable workflows and tools to monitor current behaviour to provide insight into likely future change. The project will focus on investigating the interactions between ice flow, velocity, local/regional climate, and calving. As part of the project there will be opportunities to take part in fieldwork to maintain/expand LAGO and engage with stakeholders in Nuuk.

Application details: Applications are encouraged from those with a background in any of the following: physical geography, environmental science, physics, mathematics, computer science and related disciplines (those with other educational backgrounds are not precluded from applying but are encouraged to contact the supervisor beforehand). While experience of coding in any language would be considered a strength, this is not a pre-requisite. Similarly, if you have not previously studied glaciology, training in this will be provided within the first 3 months of the PhD. All applicants interested in the project are strongly encouraged to contact the lead supervisor (James Lea – ) before applying.


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Funded studentship

This project is fully funded by a University of Liverpool studentship at a level that matches UKRI funding (currently £17,688 untaxed annual stipend, full time equivalent) for 3.5 years for full-time study or 6 years for part-time study (stipend paid pro-rata). A research training support grant of £5000 will be provided to cover project costs related to fieldwork, conference attendance and training. The anticipated start date is September/October 2023, where the applicant would join Liverpool’s group of Cryosphere researchers.
Note: non-UK applicants would be responsible for covering the difference between UK and international fees; see View Website