We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Understanding Marine Ice Stream Retreat Using Numerical Modelling and Geophysical Data

A research project of the Department of Geography.


The aim of this project, funded by the Natural Environment Research Project (NERC), is to determine the processes that trigger and control marine ice stream retreat. This is important because recent and dramatic changes to the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets show that the stability and retreat behaviour of fast-flowing ice streams are crucial factors for predicting the speed and magnitude of sea level rise. In order to understand the processes that drive changes in ice streams, our approach uses geomorphological mapping of the beds of 3 former ice streams in Antarctica to constrain numerical models of their behaviour. Our work will focus on the Marguerite Bay, Belgica Trough palaeo ice streams on the Antarctic Peninsula, and on the Western Ross Sea palaeo ice stream in West Antarctica.

Location map: The palaeo ice streams being studied in this project are highlighted in red and are, from left to right, Marguerite Bay, Belgica Trough and the Western Ross Sea.

The specific project objectives are to:

  1. map and characterise the beds of three Antarctic palaeo-ice streams at high resolution
  2. use the mapping data to generate input geometries and boundary conditions for numerical models and initiate simulations of the 3 palaeo ice streams
  3. use numerical models to understand the sensitivity of these ice streams to changing temperature, snowfall and sea-level during deglaciation after the Last Glacial Maximum (ca. 18,000 years ago)
  4. to compare mapped retreat characteristics with the modelled retreat scenarios to understand the controlling factors of marine ice stream retreat

External Collaborators

Published Results

Journal Article

  • Livingstone, S.J., O'Cofaigh, C.O., Stokes C.R., Hillenbrand, C-D., Vieli, A. & Jamieson, S.S.R. Antarctic palaeo-ice streams. Earth-Science Reviews. 2012;111:90-128.
  • Jamieson, S.S.R., Vieli, A., Livingstone, S.J., Ó Cofaigh, C., Stokes, C.R., Hillenbrand, C-D. & Dowdeswell, J.A. Ice-stream stability on a reverse bed slope. Nature Geoscience. 2012;5:799-802.


From the Department of Geography

From other departments