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Poul Christoffersen MSc PhD

Poul Christoffersen MSc PhD

Reader in Glaciology

Glaciologist, researching glacier interactions with atmosphere and ocean, and ice sheets' response to climate change; using geophysical techniques, borehole instrumentation and numerical models.



  • 2007 to present, Scott Polar Research Institute & Department of Geography, University of Cambridge
  • 2004-2006, Centre for Glaciology & Department of Geography and Earth Science, University of Wales, Aberystwyth
  • 2003-2004, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • 2000-2003, Technical University of Denmark
  • 1998-1999, Coffey Geosciences, Melbourne, Australia


One of the most challenging scientific problems today is the theoretical understanding of climate change, including accurate assessment of future impacts on natural environments. My research focuses on ice sheet dynamics, specifically on the glaciers interaction with the atmosphere and ocean, and on a broad scale the interactions of the cryosphere with Earth's climate system.

My current Arctic research includes investigations of Store Glacier in west Greenland using time-lapse cameras, UAVs, autonomous radio-echo sounding and instruments deployed in boreholes. The aim of these investigations is to understanding how hydrological networks at the base of the Greenland Ice Sheet evolve over seasons and over multiple years, and how this evolution impacts on ice flow in the interior and at the coast where ice is directly discharged into the ocean.

My current Antarctic research includes participation in NERC's Ice Sheet Stability programme, which is exploring the cause and consequences of the rapid ice loss from Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica.

PhD research opportunities

Graduate students are an integral part of my research in Antarctica as well as the Arctic, and I am currently looking for new students to fill two open projects in the Earth System Science Doctoral Training Programme:

Tracking atmospheric heat at the base of the Greenland Ice Sheet using fibre-optic sensors

Exploring hydrological systems beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet using high precision radar

Graduate student research opportunities within my research group range from large-scale issues related to the past and future behavior of polar ice sheets, to more specific themes such as basal hydrology, iceberg calving, dynamics of ice motion, and ice-ocean-atmosphere interactions. Current students are Nick Toberg, Tom Chudley and Samuel Cook. Past students include Tun Jan "TJ" Young who recently submitted his thesis ('Investigating fast flow and thermal regimes of the Greenland Ice Sheet') on the basis of high-precision radio-echo sounding data collected autonomously on Store Glacier. Craig Stewart received the Scott Centenary Scholarship and based his thesis ('Ice-ocean interactions beneath the north-western Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica') on data collected with a mooring installed on the Ross Ice Shelf. Dr Joe Todd based his thesis ('A 3D Full Stokes calving model for Store Glacier, Greenland') on numerical modelling with the Elmer/ICE finite element package. Dr Narelle Baker (now van der Wel) based her thesis ('The influence of subglacial hydrology on the flow of West Antarctic ice streams') on the integration of hydrology and ice flow in an ice sheet model and Dr Martin O'Leary based his thesis (' Frontal processes on tidewater glaciers') on a study of buoyancy-driven meltwater plumes.

I am always happy to discuss project ideas and funding opportunities by e-mail, skype or telephone.

MPhil in Polar Studies

I usually supervise one or two students on the MPhil in Polar Studies. This programme differs from many other Masters programmes in that students are encouraged to develop independent research projects from which they can write a scientific paper. Since 20007, I have supervised 12 MPhil students, nine of whom graduated with Distinction and continued as PhD students in my group or elsewhere. Highlights of excellent student research include a study of supraglacial lakes by Sarah Cooley, who recently published her MPhil dissertation research in the Journal of Geophysical Research. She is now PhD student at Brown University.

Research Grants

Resolving subglacial properties, hydrological networks and dynamic evolution of ice flow on the Greenland Ice Sheet (RESPONDER)

PI: Poul Christoffersen

Funding: European Research Council, £2,443,800 (2016-2021)

Subglacial Access and Fast Ice Research Experiment (SAFIRE)

PI and Co-I: Poul Christoffersen and Marion Bougamont
Funding: Natural Environment Research Council, £257,028 (2013-2016)

PI on Joint Project: Bryn Hubbard (Aberystwyth)

Dynamical Response of Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica (iSTAR-C)

PI and Co-I: Poul Christoffersen and Marion Bougamont
Funding: Natural Environment Research Council, £91,800 (2013-2017) and Isaac Newton Trust, £42,609 (2012-2014)

PI's on Joint Projects: David Vaughan (BAS), Tony Payne (Bristol), Andrew Shepherd (Leeds), Matt King (Newcastle), Robert Bingham (Aberdeen)

Airborne geophysical investigations of conditions at the bed of fast-flowing outlet glaciers of large Canadian Arctic ice caps

PI and Co-I: Julian Dowdeswell and Poul Christoffersen
Funding: Natural Environment Research Council, £540,000 (2013-2016)

Airborne geophysical investigations of basal conditions at flow transitions of outlet glaciers on the Greenland Ice Sheet

PI and Co-I: Julian Dowdeswell and Poul Christoffersen
Funding: Natural Environment Research Council, £809,856 (2010-2013)

PI's on Joint Projects: Martin Siegert (Edinburgh) and Jonathan Bamber (Bristol)

Determining the Dynamical Response of the Greenland Ice Sheet to Climate Forcing using a Geophysical, Remote-Sensing and Numerical Modelling Framework

PI and Co-I: Poul Christoffersen and Marion Bougamont
Funding: Natural Environment Research Council, £88,193 (2009-2012)

PI's on Joint Projects: Alun Hubbard (Aberystwyth) and Bernd Kulessa (Swansea)

Investigating basal conditions and flow dynamics on Vestfonna Ice Cap

PI and Co-I: Poul Christoffersen and Julian Dowdeswell
Funding: Natural Environment Research Council, £53,258 (2008-2009)

Understanding contemporary changes in the Antarctic Ice Sheet

PI and Co-I: Poul Christoffersen and and Marion Bougamont
Funding: Natural Environment Research Council, £165,878 (2007-2010)

PIs on Joint Projects: Tony Payne (Bristol) and Andreas Vieli (Durham)


  • Doyle, S.H., A. Hubbard, R.S.W van de Wal, et al., Amplified melt and flow of the Greenland Ice Sheet driven by late-summer cyclonic rainfall, Nature Geoscience, advanced online publication, DOI: 10.1038/NGEO2482.
  • Carr, J. R., A. Vieli, , C. R. Stokes, S. S. R. Jamieson, , S. J. Palmer, P. Christoffersen, J.A. Dowdeswell, F.M. Nick, D. D. Blankenship, D.A. Young, Basal topographic controls on rapid retreat of Humboldt Glacier, northern Greenland, Journal of Glaciology Volume: 61 Issue: 225 Pages: 137-150, DOI: 10.3189/2015JoG14J128
  • Ryan, J. C., A. L. Hubbard, J. E. Box, J. Todd, P. Christoffersen, J. R. Carr, T. O. Holt, N. Snooke, UAV photogrammetry and structure from motion to assess calving dynamics at Store Glacier, a large outlet draining the Greenland Ice Sheet, Cryosphere, 9, 1–11, doi:10.5194/tc-9-1-2015, 2015 (Open access)
  • Todd, J., P. Christoffersen, Are seasonal calving dynamics forced by buttressing from ice mélange or undercutting by melting? Outcomes from Full Stokes simulations of Store Gletscher, West Greenland, Cryosphere, 8, 2353–2365, doi:10.5194/tc-8-2353-2014, 2014 (Open access)
  • Bougamont, M., P. Christoffersen, A. L. Hubbard, A. A. Fitzpatrick, S. H. Doyle, S. P. Carter, Sensitive response of the Greenland Ice Sheet to surface melt drainage over a soft bed, Nature Communications, 5, 5052-5052, doi:10.1038/ncomms6052, 2014. (Open access)
  • Chauche, N., A. Hubbard, J. C. Gascard, J. E. Box, R. Bates, M. Koppes, A. Sole, P. Christoffersen, H. Patton, Ice-ocean interaction and calving front morphology at two west Greenland tidewater outlet glaciers, Cryosphere, 8(4), 1457-1468, doi:10.5194/tc-8-1457-2014, 2014. (Open access)
  • Christoffersen, P., M. Bougamont, S.P. Carter, H.A. Fricker, S. Tulaczyk, Significant groundwater contribution to Antarctic ice streams hydrologic budget, Geophysical Research Letters, 41, doi:10.1002/2014GL059250, 2014. (Open access)
  • Cowan, E., P. Christoffersen, R.D. Powell, F.M. Talarico, Dynamics of the late Plio–Pleistocene West Antarctic Ice Sheet documented in subglacial diamictites, AND-1B drill core, Global and Planetary Change, 119, 156-170, 2014.
  • Beem, L., S. Tulaczyk, M.A. King, M. Bougamont, H.A. Fricker, and P. Christoffersen, Variable deceleration of Whillans Ice Stream, West Antarctica, Journal of Geophysical Research, 119, 212-224, doi:10.1002/2013JF002958, 2014.
  • Palmer, S.J., J.A. Dowdeswell, P. Christoffersen, D. A. Young, D.D. Blankenship, J.S. Greenbaum, T. Benham, J. Bamber, and M.J. Siegert, Greenland subglacial lakes detected by radar, Geophysical Research Letters, 40, 6154-6159, doi:10.1002/2013GL058383, 2014.
  • Van der Wel, N., P. Christoffersen, M. Bougamont, The influence of subglacial hydrology on the flow of Kamb Ice Stream, West Antarctica, Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 118, 1-14, doi:10.1029/2012JF002570, 2013.
  • De Rydt, J., G. H. Gudmundsson, H. F. J. Corr, P. Christoffersen, Surface undulations of Antarctic ice streams tightly controlled by bedrock topography, The Cryosphere, 7, 407-417, doi:10.5194/tc-7-407-2013, 2013. (Open access)
  • O'Leary, M. and P. Christoffersen, Calving on tidewater glaciers amplified by submarine frontal melting, The Cryosphere, 7, 119-128, doi:10.5194/tc-7-119-2013, 2012. (open access)
  • Bougamont, M. and P. Christoffersen, Hydrologic forcing of ice stream flow promotes rapid transport of sediment in basal ice, Geology, 40, 735-738, doi:10.1130/G33036.1, 2012.
  • Christoffersen, P., M. O'Leary, J. H. van Angelen, M. van den Broeke, Partitioning effects from ocean and atmosphere on the calving stability of Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier, East Greenland, Annals of Glaciology, 53, 249-256, 2012.
  • Cowan, E., P. Christoffersen, R. Powell, Sedimentological signature of a deformable bed preserved beneath an ice stream in a late Pleistocene glacial sequence, Ross Sea, Antarctica, Journal of Sedimentary Research, 82, 270-282, 2012.
  • Schäfer, M., T. Zwinger, P. Christoffersen, F. Gillet-Chaulet, K. Laakso, R. Pettersson, V. A. Pohjola, T. Strozzi, and J. C. Moore, Sensitivity of basal conditions in an inverse model: Vestfonna Ice-Cap, Nordaustlandet/Svalbard, The Cryosphere, 6, 771-783, 2012. (open access)
  • Kargel, J.S. and 15 others incl. P. Christoffersen, Greenland's shrinking ice cover: "fast times" but not that fast, Cryosphere, 6, 533-537, 2012. (open access)
  • Bougamont, M., S. Price, P. Christoffersen, A. J. Payne, Dynamic patterns of ice stream flow in a 3D higher-order ice sheet model with plastic bed and simplified hydrology, Journal of Geophysical Research, 116, F04018, doi:10.1029/2011JF002025.
  • Christoffersen, P., R. I. Mugford, K. J. Heywood, I. Joughin, J. A. Dowdeswell, J. P. M. Syvitski, A. Luckman, T. J. Benham, Warming of waters in an East Greenland fjord prior to glacier retreat: mechanisms and connection to large-scale atmospheric conditions, The Cryosphere, 5, 701–714, 2011. (open access)
  • Seale, A., P. Christoffersen, R. I. Mugford, M. O'Leary, Ocean forcing of the Greenland Ice Sheet: Calving fronts and patterns of retreat identified by automatic satellite monitoring of eastern outlet glaciers, Journal of Geophysical Research, 116, F03013, doi:10.1029/2010JF001847, 2011.
  • Pettersson, R., P. Christoffersen, J. A. Dowdeswell, V. A. Pohjola, A. Hubbard, T. Strozzi, Ice thickness and basal conditions of Vestfonna Ice Cap, eastern Svalbard, Geografiska Annaler A-Physical Geography, 93A, 311-322, doi:10.1111/j.1468-0459.2011.00438.x, 2011
  • Pohjola, V. A., P. Christoffersen, L. Kolondra, J. C. Moore, R. Pettersson, M. Schafer, T. Strozzi, C. Reijmer, Spatial distribution and change in the surface ice-velocity field of Vestfonna Ice Cap, Nordaustlandet, Svalbard, 1995-2010, using geodetic and satellite interferometry data, Geografiska Annaler A-Physical Geography, 93A, 323-335 doi:10.1111/j.1468-0459.2011.00441.x, 2011
  • Lim, J., J. Woodward, S. Tulaczyk, P. Christoffersen, S. P. Cummings, Analysis of the microbial community and geochemistry of a sediment core from Great Slave Lake, Canada, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek Journal of General and Molecular Microbiology, 99, 423-430, 2011.
  • Christoffersen, P., S. Tulaczyk, A. Behar, Basal ice sequences in Antarctic ice stream: exposure of past hydrologic conditions and a principal mode of sediment transfer, Journal of Geophysical Research, F03034, doi:10.1029/2009JF001430, 2010.
  • Christoffersen, P., S. Tulaczyk, N. Wattrus, J. Peterson, N. Quintana-Krupinski, C. Clark and C. Sjunneskog, Large Subglacial lake beneath the Laurentide Ice Sheet inferred from sedimentary sequences, Geology, 36, 563-568, 2008.
  • Christoffersen, P., S. Tulaczyk, F. Carsey, and A. Behar, 2007, Reply to comment by A. W. Rempel et al. on "A quantitative framework for interpretation of basal ice facies formed by ice accretion over subglacial sediment", Journal of Geophysical Research, F02037, doi:10.1029/2006JF000732.
  • The Lake Ellsworth Consortium, 2007, Exploration of Ellsworth Subglacial Lake: a concept paper on the development, organisation and execution of an experiment to explore, measure and sample the environment of a West Antarctic subglacial lake, Reviews in Environmental Science and Biotechnology, 6, 161-179.
  • Larsen, N.K., J.A. Piotrowski, P. Christoffersen, and J. Menzies, 2006, Formation and deformation of basal till during a glacier surge, Elisebreen, Svalbard, Geomorphology, 81, 217-234.
  • Christoffersen, P., S. Tulaczyk, F. Carsey, and A. Behar, 2006, A quantitative framework for interpretation of basal ice facies formed by ice accretion over subglacial sediment, Journal of Geophysical Research, F01017, doi:10.1029/2005JF000363.
  • Christoffersen, P., J.A. Piotrowski and N.K. Larsen, 2005, Basal processes beneath an Arctic glacier and their geomorphic imprint after a surge, Elisebreen, Svalbard, Quaternary Research, 64, 125-137.
  • Christoffersen, P. and S. Tulaczyk, 2003a, Signature of palaeo-ice stream stagnation: till consolidation induced by basal freeze-on, Boreas, 32(1), 114-129.
  • Christoffersen, P. and S. Tulaczyk, 2003b, Thermodynamics of basal freeze-on: predicting basal and subglacial signatures beneath stopped ice streams and interstream ridges, Annals of Glaciology, 36, 233-243.
  • Christoffersen, P. and S. Tulaczyk, 2003c, Response of subglacial sediments to basal freeze-on: I. Theory and comparison to observations from beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 108, 2222, doi:10.1029/2002JB001935.

News, magazines and popular science

Books and book sections

  • Bentley, M., P. Christoffersen, D. Hodgson, A. Smith, S. Tulaczyk, A. Le Brocq, Subglacial lake sediments and sedimentary processes: potential archives of ice sheet evolution, past environmental change and the presence of life, In Antarctic Subglacial Aquatic Environments, Geophysical Monograph Series, 192, American Geophysical Union, pp. 83-110, 2011.
  • Christoffersen, P., Greenland Ice Sheet, in Encyclopedia of Snow, Ice and Glaciers, Springer, 2011.
  • Hambrey, M.J., P. Christoffersen, N.F. Glasser and B. Hubbard, Glacial Sedimentation Processes and Products, International Association of Sedimentologists, Special Publication, vol. 39, pp. 416.