Glaciers can act as a reservoir for atmospheric pollutants that fall onto their surface or that have been scrubbed from the atmosphere by snow, storing these materials for decades or longer, before releasing them into the downstream environment through melting. Evidence is mounting which suggests that pollutants, including fallout radionuclides generated by nuclear events, are not only being stored by glaciers, but are also concentrated through their interaction with ice, meltwater and glacial sediments. As glaciers melt in response to a warming climate, pollutants stored in ice are transported downstream in secondary contamination events, such that historical pollutants from sources such as Chernobyl in 1986 may be remobilised and pose a new threat for water and environmental quality.
The project will take an innovative interdisciplinary approach to evaluate (a) whether pollutants are stored and released from glaciers in potentially harmful concentrations, and (b) the potential socio-environmental impact(s) of this emerging challenge on downstream communities. This project aligns closely with emerging research led by Dr Clason on the prevalence of fallout radionuclides in glaciers northern Europe, with an interdisciplinary Royal Geographical Society ‘Environment and Sustainability Grant’ held jointly by Dr Clason, Dr Ward and Professor Blake, and a Newton Fund grant awarded to Dr Clason on glacier-fed water resources and water quality in Peru. The studentship will benefit from supervisors currently researching Arctic geography from both a physical and human perspective; providing the potential to develop a unique inter-disciplinary thesis on glaciers as secondary sources of anthropogenic pollutants within the context of climate change.
1. To assess the extent to
which recession of glaciers acts as a source of environmental pollutants in
2. To evaluate the spatial variability in pollutant storage and release in different glaciated regions.
3. To explore the potential impact of secondary contamination on downstream ecosystems.
4. To explore the potential impact of secondary contamination on downstream communities.
To achieve these aims the successful candidate will combine quantitative and qualitative methods across natural and social science using: geochemical techniques to analyse glacier sediment samples; statistical and spatial analytical techniques to assess the prevalence of and controls on distribution of pollutants; and qualitative research methods to better understand potential social impacts on downstream communities.The successful candidate would be trained in geochemical analytical techniques in the state-of-the-art Consolidated Radio-isotope Facility, supported by experienced technical staff. The candidate would also be trained in qualitative research methods and will have opportunities to engage with taught postgraduate material in human geography to guide them in research design, analysis, and communication techniques. The supervisory team have a demonstrated track record of expertise in glaciology, catchment science, and social environmental geography to support this interdisciplinary work.