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Durham University

Global Durham

Arctic Research at Durham University

1. International Law, State Sovereignty, and the Ice-Land-Water Interface

Professor Philip Steinberg’s research focuses on the projection of social power onto spaces whose geophysical and geographic characteristics make them resistant to state territorialisation, including the world-ocean, the universe of electronic communication, and, most recently the Arctic. His past Arctic research has been funded by the International Council for Canadian Studies, the U.S. National Science Foundation, and the European Commission and has been published in venues including Polar Record, The Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Political Geography, Polar Geography, Arctic Yearbook, Ocean Development & International Law, and several edited volumes on polar and maritime policy and geopolitics. His book on the topic, Contesting the Arctic: Politics and Imaginaries in the Circumpolar North, was published in 2015 by I.B. Tauris.

Phil presently directs the Project on Indeterminate and Changing Environments: Law, the Anthropocene, and the World (the ICE LAW Project), a Leverhulme Trust-funded network that investigates the potential for a legal framework that acknowledges the complex geophysical environment in the world’s frozen regions and explores the impact that an ice-sensitive legal system would have on topics ranging from the everyday activities of Arctic residents to the territorial foundations of the modern state.

2. Conflicts between tourism and resource extraction in the Arctic

Dr. Simone Abram is a social anthropologist working on energy, governance and tourism in the UK and Scandinavia. She is currently working on an international research project called Arctic Encounters: Travel/Writing in the European High North, funded under the Humanities in the European Research Area programme. The Arctic dimension of this project investigates conflicts between tourism and resource extraction, including oil and gas exploitation, and the consequences and visibility of climate change. Dr. Abram conducts this research through Durham University and Leeds Metropolitan University.

Dr. Abram has previously published on Norwegian ‘outdoor life’ and holiday homes, and on Norwegian planning (including a chapter in ‘utfordringer for norsk planlegging). She has been visiting professor in Tromsø (at Norut) and has taught on the Masters in Planning at Tromsø.

3. Marine geological and geophysical based investigations of ice sheet and ocean interactions on polar continental margins

Prof. Colm O’Cofaigh is a glacial geologist and Quaternary scientist, interested in the fields of glacial and glacially-influenced sedimentation and the reconstruction of ice sheets. He has a particular research strength and interest in marine geological and geophysical based investigations of ice sheet and ocean interactions on polar (both Arctic and Antarctic) continental margins. He has been working in the Arctic since 1994, including in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the Canadian Arctic mainland, Svalbard, the Norwegian-Greenland Sea and Greenland. This has included both terrestrial and marine research, the latter involving 5 Arctic cruises on the NERC ship the RRS James Clark Ross, most recently in 2009 when he was cruise Chief Scientist on a research cruise to West Greenland and Baffin Bay. Recently he has been working with numerical ice sheet modelers using marine geophysical data from Arctic and Antarctic continental shelves to constrain modeling investigations of controls on ice stream retreat. The underlying theme of the research is ice-sheet reconstruction from geological and geophysical evidence, and the use of modern glacial analogues to better understand the geological record. Prof. O’Cofaigh is Chair of ‘PAST-Gateways’ (Palaeo-Arctic Spatial and Temporal Gateways), a research network endorsed by the International Arctic Science Committee, which involves European, North American and Russian partners and the EU funded Marie Curie ITN ‘GLANAM’ (Glaciated North Atlantic Margins involving 10 European partners).

4. Relationships between environmental change and changes in the distributions of organisms

Prof. Brian Huntley is part of Durham’s School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences. His current Arctic-focused research topics include:

  • Heterogeneity of snow cover and land surface - atmosphere interactions in tundra and Boreal forest areas;
  • Holocene climatic variability in Finnmark
  • the neoglacial climatic transition as a potential 'tipping point' in the climate system;
  • late-Pleistocene vegetation and environmental history in Eurasia and the extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna;

He is also investigating a number of issues that relate to the understanding and protection of the Arctic environment.

Prof. Huntley’s principal research link is with the Abisko Scientific Research Station where he has been conducting research for more than 15 years. He is interested in the UArctic thematic network of Global Change.

5. Real and imagined cultures of the medieval north

Dr. Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough is a lecturer in medieval literature in Durham’s Department of English Studies. Her primary research interest is in the cultures of the medieval north. More particularly, she specialises in Old Norse-Icelandic literature and Viking/Medieval Scandinavia. Much of her recent work has focused on medieval geographies and landscapes, both real and imagined. She is currently writing a book about the depiction of the world in the Old Norse sagas, for which she recently spent time on research trips in Greenland, exploring the fjords and ruined farmsteads that were once home to the Norse-Greenlanders. She visited Finnmark in summer 2014.

Dr. Barraclough has links with the Universities of Bergen (Centre for Medieval Studies), Oslo (Department of Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies) and the Arnamagnaen Institutes in Reykjavík and Copenhagen. She also works with other arctic-related groups, particularly members of the Arctic and Social Sciences Association.

The BBC named Dr. Barraclough one of their ten BBC New Generation Thinkers. Since then, she has appeared on radio to talk about various aspects of the north and the medieval world, including Nordic Noir crime dramas, dragons and the Vikings in Britain.

6. Arctic and alpine soil-plant-atmosphere interactions

Dr. Bob Baxter is a senior lecturer in the School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences. He is a plant ecologist and physiologist with interests in arctic and alpine soil-plant-atmosphere interactions across a range of spatial scales from micro (cm) to macro (landscape to region - incorporating Earth Observation Platform Technology) and across a range of temporal scales (seconds to centuries +). The majority of his work is undertaken within a framework of climatic change impacts.

Dr. Baxter has over 20 years’ experience in Arctic-related research and is currently working on two international projects:

  • Snow-Vegetation-Atmosphere Interactions over Heterogeneous Landscapes (NERC-funded; 2010-2014)
  • Permafrost catchments in transition: hydrological controls on carbon cycling and greenhouse gas budgets (NERC Arctic Programme-funded grant; 2012-2015)

He has links with Umeå University, Stockholm University and Trondheim University. He would like to work within UActic Thematic Framworks of Permafrost and Global Change.

7. Arctic sea-level change, coastal evolution, ice mass history and glacio-isostatic adjustment

Prof. Antony Long is Head of Geography at Durham University. Professor Long is a Quaternary scientist with particular interest in Arctic sea-level change, coastal evolution, ice mass history and glacio-isostatic adjustment. He has additional interests in reconstructing climate change over Holocene timescales from lakes using a variety of proxies, including diatoms, pollen, chironomids and biomarkers.

Prof. Long has undertaken a range of field-based research projects in Greenland, Norway (Finnmark) and Svalbard and has good links with the Universities of Stockholm, Ottowa and Copengagen and with the Natural History Museum of Denmark. He is the European lead for the 120 member strong Palsea2 project and is also a Steering Committee Member of the research network Arctic Palaeoclimate and its Extremes.

A selection of his other current work is below:

  • Tsunamis and ice-berg roll events record in coastal lacustrine environments of Greenland – implications for reconstruction of sea-level history, ice-stream dynamics and assessment of natural hazards (Ministry of Science and Higher Education in Poland)
  • iGLASS: Using interglacials to assess future sea-level rise scenarios (NERC Consortium Grant)
  • Tipping into the Neoglacial in the North Atlantic (The Levehulme Trust)
  • Dynamics of the Greenland Ice Sheet (NERC Cosmogenic Isotope Facility Committee)
  • Constraining Greenland Ice Sheet Mass Balance Using Proxy Sea-Level Data (NERC Standard Grant)

8. A critical analysis of EU-Arctic policy-making: hegemonic discourse and imaginaries of Arctic Space as carbon

Drawing on EU and Arctic international relations and critical approaches within Political Geography the aim of Mika Laiho's postgraduate research is to explore how EU policy-making simultaneously shapes and becomes shaped by discourse about Arctic space. His PhD project thus aims to challenge structuralist and realist accounts of the material Arctic by exploring the EU-Arctic policy in-the-making, namely how Arctic space-s exist within a network of conflicting positions located in official energy security or climate change discourse. Mika's project draws on political ecology to focus exclusively on power, which exists formally, through a network of institutions and their agents, and informally, drawing on the social struggles, inequalities and marginalisation taking place between the lines of EU policy-making.

A former postgraduate student at the European Institute (LSE) and Arctic Centre (University of Lapland), now political geography researcher at Durham University, Mika's ambition is to critique EU governance through a post-structural deconstruction of carbon (extraction and combustion) geographies of Arctic space. Mika is also a member of Ustinov College at Durham University and currently acts as project leader for the Global Citizenship Programme, which includes conferences, seminars and academic presentations on a range of topical social science subjects. Further information regarding Mika's research can be found in Issue 6 of the Durham Energy Institute Review (page 12).

9. Arctic Statehood and Identity

Ingrid A. Medby is a doctoral researcher (PhD) in the Department of Geography at Durham University, originally from Northern Norway. Her research project explores the ways in which (national) identity features in political-territorial legitimisation processes in the Arctic – comparing how Norway, Iceland, and Canada are understood and articulated as “Arctic states”. Through interviews with state officials in the three countries, the project aims to gain an understanding of how (Arctic) statehood is perceived from within the state administration itself and linked to notions of identity. As such, her research fits into the field of Critical Political Geography, while also drawing on an interdisciplinary theoretical body of work on, for example, spatial identity and state theory.

As part of her current project she has participated and presented at Arctic Frontiers (Tromsø, Norway), ArcticNet’s annual Arctic Change (Ottawa, Canada), and the Arctic Circle Assembly (Reykjavik, Iceland), among others. She has also participated in “The Changing Arctic” course at the University of Oslo (2014) and the “Young Scientists’ Forum” by UiT: The Arctic University of Norway (2015). Before starting her PhD, she worked for the North Norway European Office in Brussels, Belgium. She holds a MSc. in International Relations from the University of Edinburgh, a BA in International Studies from RMIT University (Melbourne), and has authored and co-authored articles in Polar Geography and Geography Compass.

10. Geochemical weathering and nutrient export from Arctic Glaciers

Dr. Emily Stevenson is an isotope geochemist and Marie Curie Fellow in the Earth Sciences department. Her research focuses on the roles that glaciers play in controlling elemental and nutrient release into the oceans. Glaciated landforms have played a globally significant role in the interplay between climate and topography throughout Earth’s history, with processes occurring at the glacier bed exerting a fundamental control on the release of bioavailable elements to rivers and oceans, and thus the evolution of the Earth’s surface, hydrosphere and atmosphere. As global temperatures rise and ice-sheets retreat, it is critical to constrain the roles that sub-glacial geochemical processes play in controlling global biogeochemical cycles. The overarching goal of her research is to investigate the sub-glacial conditions that control vital nutrient and elemental release through a study of glacial outflows from unique glaciated Arctic regions which vary fundamentally in size, hydrology and bedrock composition.

11. Ice sheet ocean interaction on Arctic continental margins

Dr Jerry Lloyd is a senior lecturer in the Department of Geography with research interests in the area of Quaternary environmental reconstruction with particular focus on palaeoceanography and sea-level changes. One of his main areas of research focuses on the interaction between ocean circulation and ice sheet dynamics. The geographical focus of this research has concentrated on the West Greenland margin using foraminifera (marine plankton) to reconstruct ocean circulation and the link between ocean circulation and the Greenland ice sheet. This research has investigated the timing and nature of deglaciation in the Disko Bay area of west Greenland and also the link between ocean circulation and the dynamics of Jakobshavns Isbrae (one of the largest ice streams draining the Greenland Ice Sheet). This research has involved extensive collaboration with international partners in Denmark (GEUS), USA (INSTAAR, University of Colorado) and Germany (IOW) including 6 research cruises to the West Greenland margin. More recently research has targeted the east Greenland margin with a major project investigating the dynamics of the northeast Greenland ice stream and ocean circulation through a cruise of the RV Polarstern in collaboration with the Alfred Wegener Research Institute (AWI, Germany). Dr Lloyd also has research interests investigating relative sea-level changes with one area of focus in NW Iceland.

12. Glacier Change in the Arctic

Professor Chris Stokes’ research is focussed on glaciers and ranges from the monitoring of small mountain glaciers over the last few decades to large-scale reconstructions of ice sheets over tens of thousands of years. A common theme to much of his work is the use of remote sensing (e.g. satellite imagery), which allows repeat monitoring of changes in present-day glaciers and provides an efficient means to visualise and investigate the landforms left behind by former glaciers and ice sheets.

A key area of his work in the Arctic is measuring and monitoring the response of glaciers to recent climate change (global warming). This involves both satellite remote sensing and field-based studies to investigate how Arctic glaciers are responding to recent climate change, with a particular focus on glaciated regions of Arctic Norway, Russia (e.g. Russian High Arctic islands and Siberia) and major outlet glaciers in Greenland.

Chris also uses satellite imagery to map glacial landforms left behind by former ice sheets in order to reconstruct their evolution and links to the ocean-climate system. He has worked on a number of ice sheets that formerly covered Arctic regions, including the North American (Laurentide) Ice Sheet and the Fennoscandian Ice Sheet. His research on the latter is facilitated by strong links with a number of collaborators in the Department of Geology at the University of Tromsø, which were initiated via a Royal Society International Joint Project. He is also involved in the EU-funded Marie Curie ITN ‘GLANAM’ (Glaciated North Atlantic Margins), involving 10 European Partners.

Together with Professor Phil Steinberg, Chris also teaches a third year module ‘The Arctic’, which is based around a fieldtrip to northern Norway.

Group photograph of students in front of Steindalsbreen on the Department of Geography’s fieldtrip to Arctic Norway in 2015

13. Small-scale calving processes at high temporal and spatial resolutions

Heather Bell is a Masters by Research (part-time) student in the Department of Geography at Durham University. Heather’s research is investigating small-scale calving processes at high temporal and spatial resolutions, and determining patterns of change and potential calving mechanisms. Iceberg calving will be one of the largest contributors to global sea level change over the next century, but the physical mechanisms controlling calving activity remain a major unsolved problem in glaciology. High-frequency, low magnitude calving events (centimetres to metres cubed in volume) are difficult to monitor and have therefore been neglected in the literature by all but a few studies, although they could contribute a potentially large volume of ice mass loss. Heather’s project aims to employ new methods to monitor continuous change at the ice cliff in order to study small-scale calving processes and parametrize calving, which is critical to quantifying the total impact of small-scale calving on the ice mass budget.

Thematic Network on Natural Hazards

Natural hazards threaten the sustainability of Arctic communities. Read about how scientists from Durham, Alaska Fairbanks (USA), North East Federal University (Russia) and the University of Iceland are working together to ensure a future of better informed and more collaborative approaches to public safety.