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Proglacial landscape evolution in NE Greenland in response to Holocene climate change

Dr Jonathan Carrivick (SoG), Dr Mark Smith (SoG), Dr Jeff Evans (Loughborough)

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Project Summary

The ice sheet margin in NE Greenland receded from its Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) position on the continental shelf, near present-day fjord mouths (Evans et al., 2009), and to a position towards the head of fjords quite quickly, and between 10 ka – 8 ka BP (e.g. Christiansen and Humlum, 1993). This ice sheet margin recession is marked by major (tens of km long) lateral moraine ridges and kame terraces along the major east-west trending fjords at < 600m above present sea level (Funder, 1972). Coincidentally, sea level changes and isostasy created raised beaches, multiple shorelines and perched deltas (e.g. Pedersen et al., 2011; Larsen et al., 2016). However, the landscape evolution in NE Greenland in response to natural climate change is otherwise little known and contentious, at least partly due to a lack of in situ observations, the variety glaciation styles, complex paraglacial adjustments during deglaciation, and contemporary human-influenced changes.

A number of early-mid and late-Holocene advances have been proposed from a handful of sites (Winsor et al., 2014), and neoglacial and LIA moraine complexes and LIA trimlines have been widely reported (Weidick et al., 2006; Bennike and Weidick, 2001; Kelly et al., 2008), but not absolutely dated. This discrepancy in local glacial histories is problematic because many (though not all) mountain glaciers in NE Greenland were probably smaller during the Holocene than at present, many have had extents greater than today during the Holocene (Lowell et al., 2013; Levy et al., 2014), and there are conspicuous (‘fresh’ –recent) two-stage concentric moraine ridges and associated trimlines. Furthermore, because glacier response times vary considerably the LIA timing and duration in NE Greenland is very uncertain. This could be why assessments of volume and mass changes to Greenland glaciers (e.g. Kjeldsen et al., 2015) have ignored local ice caps and mountain glaciers despite these being the most responsive to subtle climate perturbations.

Nonetheless, a quantitative assessment of proglacial landscape evolution, of geomorphological functioning and in particular of sediment sources, pathways and sinks is essential for (i) an improved understanding of (responsive) mountain glaciation and hence subtle climate variability during the Holocene, (ii) past, present and future freshwater (Citterio et al., 2017 and sediment fluxes from NE Greenland, and (iii) minerals, nutrients and carbon fluxes (e.g. Rysgaard et al., 1998) and hence for terrestrial and fjord/shallow marine flora and fauna.

This project aims to assess landscape evolution in NE Greenland during the Holocene by using a novel combination of high-resolution 3D geospatial analysis; most likely including datasets such as the recently released ArcticDEM, a Pleiades DEM product and Planet and WorldView 0.5m imagery, and field surveys of geomorphology, sedimentology and with geochronological ambitions. Combining these skills and approaches will permit local process-based interpretations and a regional picture to be assembled of Holocene landscape development in NE Greenland. Questions concerning sediment fluxes from glaciated versus deglaciated catchments, geomorphological structure-composition (landforms) and geomorphological functioning (e.g. connectivity), terrestrial-fjord linkages will be addressed.

Student profile

The prospective student should have, or expect to receive, a first class BSc degree, or a distinction at Masters level, in an appropriate discipline. They should have interests and experience in most, if not all, of the following topics: geospatial analysis (raster and vector), remote sensing analysis, glacial geomorphology, sedimentology, fieldwork in remote and challenging environments. This experience together with other skills and interests that the applicant wishes to develop can be supported by the supervisors and developed during the project. A range of funding sources are available for the project which the candidate can apply to in collaboration with the supervisors.

Skills and training

Training in interdisciplinary research skills will include presenting your ongoing results and receiving constructive feedback from peers in a Research Support Group, from colleagues in the River Basins research cluster, in water@leeds, and at a university postgraduate research day. An additional important part of the research training will be to attend national and international conferences to present results and gain feedback. The student will be encouraged to write and submit papers for publication during the project. Discipline specific skills will be developed on reconstructing landscape evolution, on arctic alpine sediment sources, pathways and sinks, and process geomorphology. Full training in field and office-based techniques will be provided, although it is anticipated that the successful candidate will have a background in geospatial analysis (within GIS), remote sensing, dGPS and fieldwork experience. This project will preferably involve data collection in the field, in NE Greenland, contingent on funding, permits and logistics.


Informal enquiries should be directed to Jonathan Carrivick at j.l.carrivick(at)
Enquiries relating to the application process and funding can be sent to Jacqui Manton (


Bennike, O. and Weidick, A., 2001. Late Quaternary history around Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden and Jøkelbugten, North‐East Greenland. Boreas, 30(3), pp.205-227.

Christiansen, H.H. and Humlum, O., 1993. Glacial history and periglacial landforms of the Zackenberg area, Northeast Greenland: preliminary results. Geografisk Tidsskrift-Danish Journal of Geography, 93(1), pp.19-29.

Citterio, M., Sejr, M.K., Langen, P.L., Mottram, R.H., Abermann, J., Larsen, S.H., Skov, K. and Lund, M., 2017. Towards quantifying the glacial runoff signal in the freshwater input to Tyrolerfjord–Young Sound, NE Greenland. Ambio, 46(1), pp.146-159.

Evans, J., Ó Cofaigh, C., Dowdeswell, J.A. and Wadhams, P., 2009. Marine geophysical evidence for former expansion and flow of the Greenland Ice Sheet across the north‐east Greenland continental shelf. Journal of Quaternary Science, 24(3), pp.279-293.

Funder, S., 1972. Deglaciation of the Scoresby Sund fjord region, north-east Greenland. Fr. Bagges Kgl. Hofbogtrykkeri.

Kelly, M.A., Lowell, T.V., Hall, B.L., Schaefer, J.M., Finkel, R.C., Goehring, B.M., Alley, R.B. and Denton, G.H., 2008. A 10 Be chronology of lateglacial and Holocene mountain glaciation in the Scoresby Sund region, east Greenland: implications for seasonality during lateglacial time. Quaternary Science Reviews, 27(25), pp.2273-2282.

Kjeldsen, K.K., Korsgaard, N.J., Bjørk, A.A., Khan, S.A., Funder, S., Larsen, N.K., Bamber, J.L., Colgan, W., van den Broeke, M., Siggaard-Andersen, M.L. and Nuth, C., 2015. Spatial and temporal distribution of mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet since AD 1900. Nature, 528(7582), pp.396-400.

Larsen, N.K., Funder, S., Linge, H., Möller, P., Schomacker, A., Fabel, D., Xu, S. and Kjær, K.H., 2016. A Younger Dryas re-advance of local glaciers in north Greenland. Quaternary Science Reviews, 147, pp.47-58.

Lowell, T.V., Hall, B.L., Kelly, M.A., Bennike, O., Lusas, A.R., Honsaker, W., Smith, C.A., Levy, L.B., Travis, S. and Denton, G.H., 2013. Late Holocene expansion of Istorvet ice cap, Liverpool Land, east Greenland. Quaternary Science Reviews, 63, pp.128-140.

Pedersen, J.B.T., Kroon, A. and Jakobsen, B.H., 2011. Holocene sea‐level reconstruction in the Young Sound region, Northeast Greenland. Journal of Quaternary Science, 26(2), pp.219-226.

Rysgaard, S., Thamdrup, B., Risgaard-Petersen, N., Fossing, H., Berg, P., Christensen, P.B. and Dalsgaard, T., 1998. Seasonal carbon and nutrient mineralization in a high-Arctic coastal marine sediment, Young Sound, Northeast Greenland. Marine Ecology Progress Series, pp.261-276.

Weidick, A., Andreasen, C., Oerter, H. and Reeh, N., 1996. Neoglacial glacier changes around Storstrommen, North-East Greenland. Polarforschung, 64(3), pp.95-108.

Winsor, K., Carlson, A.E. and Rood, D.H., 2014. 10 Be dating of the Narsarsuaq moraine in southernmost Greenland: evidence for a late-Holocene ice advance exceeding the Little Ice Age maximum. Quaternary Science Reviews, 98, pp.135-143.

Related undergraduate subjects:

  • Earth science
  • Earth system science
  • Geography
  • Geological science
  • Geology
  • Geophysical science
  • Geophysics
  • Geoscience
  • Physical geography
  • Physical science
  • Physics
  • Remote sensing