Project Description

A full project description can be found on Find a PhD. Please see below for additional information about this project:

For both Earth and Mars the geomorphological signature required for reconstructing the former extent of an ice mass, are ice-marginal landforms such as moraines and trimlines. This geomorphological evidence will then be used to determine the glacier’s maximum extent. Coupling this with differences in elevation between the current surface and theoretically reconstructed palaeo-glacier surfaces will reveal the glacier volume lost.

Reconstructing Martian glacial history informs understanding of its physical environment and past climate. This project will improve our understanding of several important research questions such as (i) how was the present-day Martian landscape formed and how might it further evolve in the future?, (ii) What might be the presence and phase state of H2O on/close to Mars’ surface?, and (iii) how has the Martian climate changed in geologically recent history.

Essential skills

  • GIS

Desirable skills

  • Photogrammetry
  • Matlab
  • Python
  • R

Photo by M. Maggs on Pixabay.



Lydia Sam

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: Lydia Sam
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Geosciences

Donal Mullan

Secondary Supervisor:

Profile: Donal Mullan
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Natural and Built Environment

Brice Rea

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Brice Rea
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Geosciences

Additional Supervisor:

Dr. Anshuman Bhardwaj, Senior Lecturer, School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen
Dr. Shaktiman Singh, Lecturer, School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen
Dr. Matteo Spagnolo, Personal Chair, School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen


[1] Brough et al. (2016) Icarus, 274, 37-49

[2] Glasser and Bennett (2009). Glacial geology: ice sheets and landforms.


Climate change is a reality and glaciers are well-established markers of gauging the extent of climate change at large spatiotemporal scales. This project ventures into a new direction where comparative glaciological investigations on both, Earth and Mars, aim at developing unified approaches of reconstructing the former extents and status of glaciers. Although substantial ice cover has been identified within the mid-latitudes of Mars in the form of GLFs, there is uncertainty regarding the formation, current and former volume, and dynamic evolution and detailed geomorphology of these ice masses. This project, can also help to understand how Mars’ climate changed in geologically recent history, and this can help us learn more on the implications of changing climate on the future of Earth. The project proposal will also improve our understanding of how Mars’ present-day landscape was formed and how might it further evolve in the future, which may also tell us how Earth’s landscape might change in future in different scenarios.
In the context of anthropogenic climate change and resulting glacier shrinkage on Earth, mountain glaciers are thought to display further transition from debris-free to debris-covered, with an increase of their relative importance on the freshwater availability, quality and timing. A contextual and comparative analysis of debris-covered GLFs on Mars can reveal significant insights about the future of glaciers on Earth. This highlights the importance and relevance of the project.

Proposed Supervision

The lead supervisor, Lydia Sam, is a remote sensing specialist and a glaciologist based at the University of Aberdeen and the second supervisor, Donal Mullan, is a climatologist based at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB). The candidate will be based in Aberdeen but will have regular contact with QUB and, if desirable, may be able to undertake some of the PhD based in Belfast. The candidate will also benefit from supervision/advice by other members of staff from the Cryosphere and Climate Change Group in Aberdeen (Anshuman Bhardwaj, Brice Rea, Shaktiman Singh, and Matteo Spagnolo).

Proposed Timetable

1st year
Reviewing the literature; downloading and archiving of relevant remote sensing data, generation of photogrammetric DEMs, mapping of glaciers and periglacial landscape; planning and conducting fieldwork to observe the glacial landscapes.

2nd year
Continuation of mapping work, morphometric analyses, presentation of preliminary works in conferences, compilation of climate datasets.

3rd year
Completion of mapping and morphometry work, correlation of mapped results with climate data, synthesis of research articles.
Last 6 months: Communication and revision of research articles and finalising the thesis.


  • earth-systems

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