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Department of Geography



James Kirkham BSc, MPhil

PhD Candidate

I am a PhD student working at the Scott Polar Research Institute and the British Antarctic Survey. My current research uses marine geophysical techniques to reconstruct the movement of water beneath the late Quaternary ice sheets. I also have an active interest in high-altitude snow dynamics and the water cycle of the Himalayas.



  • 11.2022: Early career research volunteer, COP27 Cryosphere Pavilion, Egypt
  • 04.2022-07.2022: Policy Advisor in Climate Energy and Environment, Government Office for Science (GO-Science), United Kingdom.
  • 2017-2018: Researcher, Cryosphere Initiative. International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Kathmandu, Nepal.


  • 2018-2022: PhD Antarctic Studies, British Antarctic Survey and University of Cambridge (Corpus Christi College)
  • 2016-2017: MPhil Polar Studies, University of Cambridge (Girton College)
  • 2013-2016: BSc Geography, Durham University

Awards and scholarships

  • Outstanding Student Presentation Award - AGU Fall Meeting (2020)
  • B.B. Roberts Award (2019)
  • Corpus Christi College Research Grant (2018)
  • Cambridge Earth System Science Doctoral Training Partnership, Natural Environmental Research Council (2018-2022)
  • Scott Polar Research Institute Debenham Scholarship (2016)
  • Royal Geographical Society Quantitative Methods Research Group Prize (2016)
  • W.B. Fisher Prize (2016)
  • Vice-Chancellor's Scholarship for Academic Excellence (2014)
  • Vice-Chancellor's Scholarship for Academic Excellence (2013)
  • Durham University Geography Fieldwork prize (2013)


The movement of water beneath ice sheets is a fundamental, but poorly constrained, factor controlling their mass loss rates and, accordingly, sea-level rise. I study landforms created by subglacial meltwater in the past to learn more about how water moves beneath ice sheets today. My current research combines ship-borne multibeam echo-sounding surveying and numerical modelling to understand the production, routing, and mechanisms of water flow beneath the past Antarctic Ice Sheet with particular attention to Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers, West Antarctica. In the northern hemisphere, I am investigating the formation and infill of buried tunnel valleys in the North Sea using industry-acquired high resolution three-dimensional seismic data. An understanding of the features produced by water flow beneath former ice sheets provides a basis with which the representation of subglacial hydrology in numerical ice sheet models can be improved.


  • Gurung, T.R., Kayastha, R.B., Fujita, K., Joshi, S.P., Sinisalo, A. and Kirkham, J.D. (2022). A long-term mass-balance reconstruction (1974–2021) and a decadal in situ mass-balance record (2011–2021) of Rikha Samba Glacier, central Himalaya. Journal of Glaciology, 1-14.
  • Kirkham, J.D., Hogan, K.A., Larter, R.D., Arnold, N.S., Ely, J.C., Clark, C.D., Self, E., Games, K., Huuse, M., Stewart, M.A. and Ottesen, D. (2022). Tunnel valley formation beneath deglaciating mid-latitude ice sheets: Observations and modelling. Quaternary Science Reviews, 107680.
  • Hogan, K.A. , Arnold, N.S., Larter, R.D. , Kirkham, J.D. , Noormets, R., Ó Cofaigh, C., Golledge, N., Dowdeswell, J.A.. (2022) Subglacial water flow over an Antarctic palaeo-ice stream bed. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface.
  • Kirkham, J. D., Hogan, K. A., Larter, R. D., Self, E., Games, K., Huuse, M., Stewart, M. A., Ottesen, D., Arnold, N. S. and Dowdeswell, J. A. (2021). Tunnel valley infill and genesis revealed by high-resolution 3-D seismic data. Geology, v. 49,
  • Stigter, E.E., Steiner, J.F., Koch, I., Saloranta, T.M., Kirkham, J.D. and Immerzeel, W.W. (2021). Energy and mass balance dynamics of the seasonal snowpack at two high-altitude sites in the Himalaya. Cold Regions Science and Technology, 183, 103233.
  • Kirkham, J. D., Hogan, K. A., Larter, R. D., Arnold, N. S., Nitsche, F. O., Kuhn, G., Gohl, K., Anderson, J. B. and Dowdeswell, J. A. (2020). Morphometry of bedrock meltwater channels on Antarctic inner continental shelves. Geomorphology, 370. 107369.
  • Hogan, K. A., Larter, R. D., Graham, A. G. C., Arthern, R., Kirkham, J. D., Totten Minzoni, R., Jordan, T.A. , Clark, R., Fitzgerald, V., Wåhlin, A. K., Anderson, J. B., Hillenbrand, C.-D., Nitsche, F. O., Simkins, L., Smith, J., Gohl, K., Arndt, J. E., Hong, J. and Wellner, J. (2020). Revealing the former bed of Thwaites Glacier using sea-floor bathymetry: implications for warm-water routing and bed controls on ice flow and buttressing. The Cryosphere, 14. 2883-2908.
  • Kirkham, J. D., Hogan, K. A., Larter, R. D., Arnold, N. S., Nitsche, F. O., Golledge, N. R., and Dowdeswell, J. A. (2019). Past water flow beneath Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers, West Antarctica. The Cryosphere.
  • Kirkham, J.D., Koch, I., Saloranta, T.M., Litt, M., Stigter, E.E., Møen, K., Thapa, A., Melvold, K. and Immerzeel, W.W. (2019). Near Real-Time Measurement of Snow Water Equivalent in the Nepal Himalayas. Frontiers in Earth Science. 7:177.
  • Saloranta, T., Thapa, A., Kirkham, J.D., Koch, I., Melvold, K., Stigter, E., Litt, M. and Møen, K., 2019. A model setup for mapping snow conditions in high-mountain Himalaya. Frontiers in Earth Science, 7:129.
  • Larter, R.D., Hogan, K.A., Hillenbrand, C.D., Smith, J.A., Batchelor, C.L., Cartigny, M., Tate, A.J., Kirkham, J.D., Roseby, Z.A., Kuhn, G. and Graham, A.G. (2019). Subglacial hydrological control on flow of an Antarctic Peninsula palaeo-ice stream. The Cryosphere. 13(6), pp.1583-1596.
  • Kirkham, J.D., Rosser, N.J., Wainwright, J., Jones, E.C.V., Dunning, S.A., Lane, V.S., Hawthorn, D.E., Strzelecki, M.C. and Szczucinski, W. (2017). Drift-dependent changes in iceberg size-frequency distributions. Scientific reports, 7(1), 15991.


  • 2022: Lecturer and supervisor, Geography Tripos, Part 1B - Glacial Depositional Environments, University of Cambridge

External activities