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Postdoc research position - Palaeoenvironmental Research at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS)

PDRA Quaternary Sedimentologist/Geochemist – The Big Thaw Highlight Topic Grant

Contract Type: Full Time
Duration: Fixed Term Appointment - 30 months
Salary: £31,931 to £39,915 per annum
Benefits: We offer generous benefitsTeam: Palaeo-environments, Ice sheets and Climate Change (PICC)
Location: BAS Cambridge, fieldwork and laboratory locations in the UK and overseas as required
Closing Date: Tuesday, 21 February 2023

Apply online:

Who we are

British Antarctic Survey (BAS) delivers and enables world-leading interdisciplinary research in the Polar Regions. Our skilled science and support staff based in Cambridge, Antarctica and the Arctic, work together to deliver research that uses the Polar Regions to advance our understanding of Earth as a sustainable planet. Through our extensive logistic capability and know how BAS facilitates access for the British and international science community to the UK polar research operation. Numerous national and international collaborations, combined with an excellent infrastructure help sustain a world leading position for the UK in Antarctic affairs. British Antarctic Survey is a component of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). NERC is part of UK Research and Innovation

We employ experts from many different professions to carry out our Science as well as keep the keep the lights on, feed the research and support teams and keep everyone safe! If you are looking for an opportunity to work with amazing people in one of the most unique places in the world, then British Antarctic Survey could be for you. We aim to attract the best people for those jobs.


The mountain cryosphere is so large, varied, inhospitable, and changeable that we must rely on models of snowfall and runoff to map and manage these water resources and to predict how they will evolve. This is an important goal because meltwater released each summer is an extraordinary generator of wealth and wellbeing in rich and poor countries, sustaining a sixth of the global population and a quarter of GDP, but it is also among the most sensitive of all major ecosystem-services to climate change. The loss of snow and ice poses a global threat to secure water, food, energy, and livelihood for hundreds of millions of people, but how much water the mountain cryosphere provides, and how its role will change, remains remarkably uncertain because model skill is fundamentally limited by the quality and availability of the key observations and field data needed to test and develop them. Essentially, existing observations are too sparse, small-scale, poorly distributed, inaccurate, infrequent, or short-lived to constrain models adequately. 

The Big Thaw project aims to transform our understanding of current and past changes in snow accumulation in the Himalayas and the impact that climate change is having on mountain water resources. A key component of the project is reconstructing long-term extreme flood and drought events in the Himalayas using lake sediments. Evidence from lake records and other field observations will be used to calibrate and refine relevant model processes. This will help to eliminate gross biases and reduce uncertainties in model outputs across all model scales, past, present, and future, and aid the development local resilience and adaptation strategies to protect societal infrastructure.


Applications are invited for a 2½ year (30-month) postdoctoral research position in Palaeoenvironmental Research at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). The successful applicant will join the ‘Big Thaw’ project (PI: Dr. Hamish Pritchard), an ambitious new UKRI/NERC-funded Highlight Topic project assessing past, present and future changes in global mountain water resources from snow and ice.

Working within the sedimentology Work Package of The Big Thaw project, and with guidance from Dr. Steve Roberts, and Dr. Bianca Perren within the Palaeoenvironments, Ice Sheets and Climate Change (PICC) team at BAS Cambridge, the new PDRA will undertake physical, geochemical and chronological analysis of new lake sediment records from the Himalayas to reconstruct past environmental change and help answer the following questions: How frequently do extreme wet and dry years occur in the mountain cryosphere over centennial (to millennial) timescales, what climate factors caused this, and how will they change in the future?

The main tasks and an outline timetable for this 2 ½ year post-doc will be:

• Prepare for fieldwork, set up laboratory work and protocols (Apr/May-Sept 2023)
• Collect new sediment cores from 3 lakes at 4000-5000 m altitude in NW Nepal, along the shared drainage divide of the Brahmaputra, Indus and Ganges basins (Sept-Nov 2023)
• Apply a range of state-of-the-art analytical sedimentological and geochemical techniques to these sediment cores in BAS, UK and overseas laboratories (2024/5) – see post description for details
• Produce highly resolved, multi-proxy reconstructions from sediment core parameters and catchment reference material (2024/5)
• Reconstruct a multi-century, and potentially annually resolved, record of precipitation extremes in conjunction with other Work Packages in The Big Thaw project (2024/5)

The successful candidate will have a PhD in Geosciences or a related discipline, and experience of palaeoenvironmental reconstruction; be experienced in a range of sedimentological, geochemical and chronological analytical and data processing techniques; experience of lake sediment coring and/or fieldwork experience in remote environments is desirable (ideally with Himalayan fieldwork/trekking experience). 

The post will commence in April 2023, to prepare for (and undertake) a field season in Sept-Nov 2023. Analysis and interpretation of sediment cores collected will take place in 2024-25. 

For an informal discussion about the post, please contact Dr Steve Roberts ( For an informal discussion about the post, please contact Dr Steve Roberts ( and Bianca Perren (

View job description: file:///Users/chene/Downloads/Job%20Profile%20document.pdf

• Take responsibility for the physical analysis of sediment records collected.
• Interpret the results of these analyses and work together with colleagues within and across work packages within the Big Thaw project.
• Integrate interpretations from the sediment records with those from other data types, including present day climate parameters and models.
• Deliver research outputs, publish them in international peer-reviewed journals, and present them at international conferences and internal meetings.
• Prepare and contribute to reports, conference presentations, scientific papers and research proposals as directed by ‘Big Thaw’ colleagues at BAS.
• Help to integrate datasets produced by the ‘Big Thaw’ team with datasets from other BAS projects and archive cores and data in Open Access repositories such as the new Polar Sediment Core Facility and the NERC Polar Data Centre, both located at BAS.
• Work with other ‘Big Thaw’ members, PICC staff and students, and other BAS teams to maximise scientific products and outputs.
• Maintain a high-scientific profile in the international research community and within UKRI-NERC/BAS/PICC.