Project highlights

  • A global assessment of a diverse range of future hazards from glaciated regions due to climate change (lake development, floods and droughts, lake outbursts)
  • Highly interdisciplinary project, with elements of glaciology, hydrology, risk assessment, climatology, landscape modelling, and remote sensing.
  • Opportunity to work with a range of academic and industry partners and liaise with stakeholder / user groups including local communities, charities, NGOs and government.


A variety of projection studies forecast significant mass loss of glaciers in regions for which populations rely on meltwater for subsistence, agriculture, infrastructure and commercial operations1. Living in the proximity of glaciers and meltwater raises the possibility of a number of potentially devastating hazard-related risks, including floods, droughts, lake outbursts, and landslides. While numerous studies have investigated the drivers and mechanisms of glacier-related hazards at local to catchment scalee.g.2-3, few studies attempt to forecast future hazard risk, and no global-scale assessment has yet been attempted. With significant populations, existing and planned infrastructure, and therefore medium to high hazard risk in the glaciated mountains of Europe, North America (including Alaska), Iceland, Scandinavia, New Zealand, South America, and Central and High Mountain Asia (Himalayas), there is now a strong need for an integrated assessment of global hazard risk.

This project will summarise existing hazard risks from glaciated regions, with the opportunity to choose a specific focus on the more heavily populated European Alps, South American Andes, Tropics, and Central and High Mountain Asia regions. Output of global glacier melt model intercomparisons will be used to investigate future hazard scenarios using climate-meltwater projections, existing topographic constraints and predictions of landscape and lake development. These outputs will provide a package of risk constraints for local stakeholders, regional and national governments, NGOs and commercial operators to incorporate into future planning and adaptation strategies.


University of Birmingham


  • Climate and Environmental Sustainability


Project investigator

  •  Dr N.E. Barrand (UoB,



  •  Dr J. Larsen (UoB)
  •  Dr Jonathan Mackay (BGS)
  • Prof. R. Moore (Jacobs Engineering)

How to apply


The project will apply a multidisciplinary approach, utilising bibliographic data, remote sensing analysis, big data and time-series analysis, and hazard / risk assessment. The first stage will include assessment of previous local-to-regional scale risk assessments and identification of high-risk / stress downstream regions. The second stage will analyse river discharge and water level observation time-series to quantify the glacial influence on stream flow in high-risk regionse.g.4 to assess flood and drought risk. The applicant will then use a variety of remotely-sensed datasets and data products to quantify local-regional future lake development risk in terms of (i) temporal proximity, (ii) magnitude, and (iii) population / economic threat (e.g. proximity to infrastructure). This will include determination of lake sensitivity to additional meltwater volumes based on existing glacier hypsometry. Each of these analyses will combine to build up a global-scale picture of a range of glacier-related hazards and the sensitivity of both individual lakes as well as regions to climate change, which are highly relevant to a diverse group of downstream users. The student will also have the opportunity to work closely with the industry partner, Jacobs engineering, on translating research into practice and constrain the risk profile of outburst flooding for future stakeholder use.

Training and skills

Opportunities will be made available to attend glaciology spring and/or summer schools in Svalbard, Norway (UNIS) and Karthaus, Italy (IMAU, Utrecht). They will also have access to a wide programme of technical and personal development training courses relevant to the PhD (e.g. GIS, programming and time series analysis) at the BGS run as part of the corporate training programme, which map directly on to NERC’s ‘Most Wanted Skills’6.  The opportunity to collaborate with industry partners (Jacobs engineerging) will also provide important real world skills and training in translating research into practice for stakeholder use.

Partners and collaboration

Through the BGS University Funding Initiative (BUFI) the student will become part of a large cohort of researchers at the BGS and be expected to attend BUFI events, such as the annual BUFI Science Festival. They will work with JM at the BGS head office in Nottinghamshire, benefitting from his expertise in glacier hydrology, numerical modelling and climate change impact analysis5. They will also be integrated into a larger group of BGS geoscientists with expertise in geophysics and multi-geohazards. The student will also have the opportunity to work with co-supervisor Prof. Roger Moore at Jacobs Engineering as project partners, providing valuable insights into risk evaluation for end-users.

Further details

Contact lead PI (Dr N.E. Barrand):

Applications need to be submitted via the University of Birmingham postgraduate portal,, by midnight 11.01.2021. Please first check whether the primary supervisor is within Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, or in Biosciences, and click on the corresponding PhD program on the application page.

This application should include

  • a brief cover letter, CV, and the contact details for at least two referees
  • a CENTA application form
  • the supervisor and title of the project you are applying for under the Research Information section of the application form.

Referee’s will be invited to submit their references once you submit your application, but we strongly encourage applicants to ensure referees are aware of your submission and expecting a reference request from us. Students are also encouraged to visit and explore the additional information available on the CENTA website.



Possible timeline

Year 1

Collation of existing hazard and risk assessments and global estimate of glacial influence on streamflow. Review paper preparation and submission.

Year 2

Quantification of future hazard risk (drought, flood, lake development). Paper writing.

Year 3

Projection of global hazard risks and delivery to user groups. Thesis writing and submission.

Further reading

  1. Shannon, S. et al. (2019) Global glacier volume projections under high-end climate-change scenarios. The Cryosphere, 13, 325-350, doi:10.5194/tc-13-325-2019.
  2. Drenkhan, F. et al. (2019) Managing risk and future options from new lakes in the deglaciating Andes of Peru: The example of the Vilcanota-Urumbamba basin. Science of the Total Environment, 665, 465-483, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.02.070.
  3. Cook, S. et al. (2016) Glacier change and glacial lake outburst flood risk in the Bolivian Andes. The Cryosphere, 10, 2399-2413, doi:10.5194/tc-10-2399-2016.
  4. Cauvy-Fraunie, S. et al. (2013) Technical note: Glacial influence in tropical mountain hydrosystems evidenced by the diurnal cycle in water levels. Hydrology and Earth System Science, 17, 4803-4816, doi:10.5194/hess-17-4803-2013.
  5. Mackay, J.D., Barrand, N.E. et al. (2019) Future evolution and uncertainty of river flow regime change in a deglaciating river basin. Hydrology and Earth System Science, 23, 1833-1865,
  6. Natural Environment Reseach Council (2019) Most Wanted II, Postgraduate and Professional Skills Needs in the Environmental Sector. policy/skillsreview/2012/most-wanted2-report/ [accessed 28-10-2019].


Although there is ample opportunity to develop international contacts and experience in this project, the project will mostly leverage existing databases and analysis of remote sensing data products. Therefore, the project is highly robust against any future COVID-19 impacts.