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Research Masters

Our Masters by Research degree (MRes) provides an opportunity to develop your research expertise and advanced skills. It offers a research-intensive option and the opportunity for you to work within a vibrant, world-leading research environment, often on active projects around the world. Our MRes can be taken to achieve either an MSc or MA and provide a further qualification for a career where independent research skills will set you apart, and it is an excellent option if you are considering a PhD.

The MRes is designed to provide advanced research experience. It emphasises independent but supervised research and you will work closely with at least two supervisors. Your supervisors will support you through each stage in designing and completing an original piece of research. Many of our students go on to publish their work in leading journals.

Take a look at the list of current Masters projects or propose your own to a potential supervisor. Our students study for a minimum of one and maximum of two years to obtain this degree. The MRes is open to any student with a Bachelors degree in a science or social science subject of the required standard (2:1 or 1st class degree). The MRes (MSc or MA) is suitable for students with a science, engineering, social science or an arts background.

See currently available projects:

• Human Geography

The Politics of Urban Life

FinTech, Global Development and State Building

• Physical Geography

Rivers on Ice: How Similar are Supraglacial Channels on Glaciers to Rivers on Land?

Reconstructing the Paleoseismic History of Northern Cascadia from Salt-Marsh Sediments in Coastal Washington, USA

Impacts of Freshwater Forcing on the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation: Insights From the Past

Englacial Architecture and Bedrock Topography of the Southern Antarctic Peninsula

A Postglacial Sea-Level Database for Alaska

 

 

The Politics of Urban Life

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Contact Project Supervisor: Dr Aya Nassar

Project Overview

Despite the enduring and potentially indefinite enforced slowing of urban life, urban politics remains not only alive but very pertinent. From the ongoing Honk Kong protest to the proliferating Black Lives Matter movement, the urban continues to be a site of collective enactment and resistance. Uprisings and protests continue in the Middle East a decade after the Arab Spring in cities in Lebanon, Iraq and the Sudan, to name a few. Crowds continue to gather and march through global cities to stage discontent.

In this moment, despite securitization and suppression, cities remain embroiled in contesting injustice, corruption, racism and colonial legacies. What we understand by public appearance and collective action might be shifting, and we are witnessing multiple forms of novel social and material infrastructures, actions of extending care, and attempts at creating urban commons that require reflection.

Against this backdrop, we are interested in supervising projects that seek to respond to the contemporary moment of collective politics in urban space. This entails collective affirmation of demands for decolonisation, justice, enduring and emerging forms of urban protest and mobilization for against racism, policing, and corruption and reimagining urban futures. In this vein, we would be interested in supervising projects that fall at the intersection of political geography and urban geography and that engage legal, architectural, visual and archival methods.

Key References

Chen, HY and B. Lachlan (2020) 'CityPsyche - Hong Kong'. City. 24:220-232.

Dikec, M. (2018) Urban Rage: The Revolt of the Excluded. New Haven: Yale University Press.

McCann, E. (2020) 'Spaces of publicness and the world after the Coronavirus crisis'. Society and Space. Online: https://www.societyandspace.org/articles/spaces-of-publicness.

Simone, A. and M. Lancione (2020) 'Bio-austerity and Solidarity in the COVID-19 Space of Emergency- Episode one'. Society and Space. Online: https://www.societyandspace.org/articles/bio-austerity-and-solidarity-in-the-covid-19-space-of-emergency.

FinTech, Global Development and State Building

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Contact Project Supervisor: Prof Paul Langley

Project Overview

'FinTech' is the digital platform political economy of retail money and finance. It is increasingly and enthusiastically promoted in global development agendas that prioritise 'financial inclusion' at the 'bottom of the pyramid' (BoP). FinTech, then, is mobilized to 'bank the unbanked', the 40 percent of the global adult population (~1.7 billion people) who do not presently have a formal bank account and lack credit histories and scores. Through a suitable city- and/or country-scale case study, the project will investigate how global developmental agendas that embrace the FinTech sector are received and repurposed for state building in the global South. This could include a research on: city-based policies and initiatives designed to grow key urban centres for FinTech platforms, and to advance state competitiveness in international finance; and/or country-wide programmes to partner with FinTech platforms to collect data about populations, and to advance the surveillance and taxation powers of the state.

Key References

Aitken, R. 2017. 'All data is credit data': Constituting the unbanked. Competition & Change 21 (4):274-300.

Langley, P. and Leyshon, A. (2020) The platform political economy of FinTech: Reintermediation, consolidation and capitalization, New Political Economy, online early.

Jain, S., and Gabor, D. (2020) The rise of digital financialisation: The case of India, New Political Economy, onli

A Postglacial Sea-Level Database for Alaska

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Supervisor Contact: Dr Simon Engelhart

Project Overview

Databases of relative sea-level (RSL) data provide constraints for our understanding of a number of processes including glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA), climate-related sea-level oscillations, and the influence of tectonics. These databases are useful tools because they are analysed systematically, which enables the comparison of data that were previously interpreted and analysed via different methods and approaches, including data that were originally collected to answer questions other than RSL histories. The last decade has seen a reinvigoration in the development of such databases (e.g., Khan et al., 2019). However, they are often focused on intermediate- or far-field regions (those areas beyond the extent of glaciation at the Last Glacial Maximum), with fewer examples in formerly glaciated areas (e.g., Vacchi et al., 2018) and little focus on areas that are also complicated by tectonics (e.g., Engelhart et al., 2015). One such area of absence is for the extensive coastline of Alaska, including the Aleutian Islands. In this complex region, there has been extensive collection of datasets to look at topics such as changes in glacial extent and development of palaeoseismic histories that may also provide crucial data to understand the evolution of RSL. Via literature review, this project will compile and systematically analyse potential sea level indicators in Alaska to develop a series of RSL histories. Possible applications of this completed dataset will include improved models of the GIA processes in subduction zones, improved ice sheet histories for Alaska Peninsula ice sheet, and understanding the complex links between GIA and tectonics.

Key References

Engelhart, S.E., Vacchi, M., Horton, B.P., Nelson, A.R., Kopp, R.E., 2015. A sea-level databse for the Pacific coast of central North America. Quaternary Science Reviews 113, 78-92.

Khan, N.S., Horton, B.P., Engelhart, S.E., Rovere, A., Vacchi, M., Ashe, E.L., Tornqvist, T.E., Dutton, A., Hijma, M.P., Shennan, I., 2019. Inception of a global atlas of sea levels since the Last Glacial Maximum. Quaternary Science Reviews 220, 359-371.

Vacchi, M., Engelhart, S.E., Nikitina, D., Ashe, E.L., Peltier, W.R., Roy, K., Kopp, R.E., Horton, B.P., 2019. Postglacial relative sea-level histories along the eastern Canadian coastline. Quaternary Science Reviews 201, 124-146.

Englacial Architecture and Bedrock Topography of the Southern Antarctic Peninsula

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Contact Project Supervisor: Prof Mike Bentley

Project Overview

Radio echo sounding (RES) of the Antarctic ice sheet is a powerful tool for determining the structure of ice beneath the ice surface and for determining ice thickness. It has been widely used to determine topography of the bed beneath the ice sheet, for understanding the deformation history of ice layers, and for finding subglacial lakes. A recently-funded project, led by Professor Mike Bentley, is seeking to drill through the ice to sample bedrock at multiple sites in the southern Antarctic Peninsula. The area where we want to drill has been criss-crossed by many airborne RES surveys in recent years but few of the data have yet been fully analysed.

This project will take the existing data archive and analyse the radar data to determine a detailed map of the bedrock topography in this region, and to investigate the patterns of ice layering in the ice sheet. This information will be used as part of drill-site planning and in providing input to numerical models of the Antarctic ice sheet. Full training will be given in using specialist software analytical tools for radar data; in glaciological interpretation; geomorphological interpretation of bed topography; and in Antarctic ice sheet history. Training and supervision will be provided by Antarctic researchers in Durham, Newcastle and at British Antarctic Survey.

The project can be started at any time. Anyone wanting further details or is interested in applying is encouraged to contact Professor Mike Bentley.

Key References

Napoleoni, F., Jamieson, S.S.R., Ross, N., Bentley, M.J., Rivera, A., Smith, A.M., Siegert, M.J., Paxman, G.J.G., Gacitua, G., Uribe, J.A., Zamora, R., Brisbourne, A.M., Vaughan, D.G. Subglacial lakes and hydrology across the Ellsworth Subglacial Highlands, West Antarctica. The Cryosphere 2020, 14, 4507-4524.

Ashmore, D.W., Bingham, R.G., Ross, N., Siegert, M.J., Jordan, T.A., Mair, D.W.F. Englacial architecture and age-depth constraints across the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Geophysical Research Letters 2020, 47(6), e2019GL086663.

Impacts of Freshwater Forcing on the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation: Insights From the Past

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Contact Project Supervisor: Dr Paola Moffa-Sanchez

Project Overview

Changes in the strength of the deep-water formation in the North Atlantic, also known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), play a key role in regional and global climate. Over the last 60 years melting of Greenland and Arctic ice has increased the flux of freshwater reaching the North Atlantic [Yang et al., 2016]. Controversy remains on whether this continued increase in freshwater fluxes will result in a future collapse or slowdown of the AMOC [Stouffer et al., 2006] although some studies suggest that an AMOC slowdown may already be underway [Thornalley et al., 2018]. Past climate events such as the outbursts of glacial lakes Agassiz and Ojibway around 8.2kyrs ago provide a perfect future analogue to study the response of the AMOC to freshwater forcing. This project aims to use unique decadally resolved marine sediment cores from the North Atlantic to reconstruct the response of the surface and deep ocean to the freshwater changes across the 8.2kyr event. In order to achieve this, the student will use a suite of paleoceanographic proxies including sediment chemical composition, foraminiferal and ice rafted debris counts, and grain size analysis.

Key References

Stouffer, et al. (2006), Investigating the Causes of the Response of the Thermohaline Circulation to Past and Future Climate Changes, 19(8), 1365-1387.

Thornalley, et al. (2018), Anomalously weak Labrador Sea convection and Atlantic overturning during the past 150 years, Nature, 556(7700), 227-230.

Yang, Dixon, Myers, Bonin, Chambers, van den Broeke, Ribergaard, and Mortensen (2016), Recent increases in Arctic freshwater flux affects Labrador Sea convection and Atlantic overturning circulation, Nature Communications, 7, 10525.

Reconstructing the Paleoseismic History of Northern Cascadia from Salt-Marsh Sediments in Coastal Washington, USA

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Contact Project Supervisor: Dr Simon Engelhart

Project Overview

Of the major subduction zones worldwide, Cascadia (northern California, USA to British Columbia, Canada) is unique because it has not experienced rupture during the instrumental or regional historical period. A critical step, therefore, towards understanding Cascadia’s rupture patterns, timing and magnitude of strain release is reconstructing - in considerable detail - its paleogeodetic history over at least the past couple of thousand years. Fortunately, Cascadia’s earthquake archive is exceptional due to the continual creation of sediment accommodation space by middle to late Holocene relative sea-level rise of 0.5-2.0mm/yr. Recent work has developed extensive databases of modern microfossil distributions that can be used to develop decimetre-scale reconstructions of subsidence during past great earthquakes at Cascadia (e.g., Kemp et al., 2018) but the primary application of this has been in coastal Oregon with fewer quantitative reconstructions to the north in coastal Washington. This limits our ability to understand deformation during past great and giant earthquakes at Cascadia as the existing datasets often have large vertical errors that limit our ability to choose between different models of past earthquake rupture (e.g., Wang et al., 2013). This project will seek to redress that balance by producing continuous records of environmental change and estimates of co- and inter-seismic land-level changes at potential sites in coastal Washington that could include Johns River, Salt Creek, and the Pysht River (e.g., Shennan et al., 1996). This will primarily utilise salt-marsh foraminifera but could also include diatoms as a secondary proxy.

Key References

Kemp, A.C., Cahill, N., Engelhart, S.E., Hawkes, A.D., and Wang, K., 2018. Revising estimates of spatially variable subsidence during the A.D. 1700 Cascadia earthquake using a Bayesian foraminiferal transfer function. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 108, 654-673, doi:10.1785/0120170269.

Shennan, I., Long, A.J., Rutherford, M.M., Green, F.M., Innes, J.B., Lloyd, J.M., Zong, Y., and Walker K.J., 1996. Tidal marsh stratigraphy, sea-level change and large earthquakes, I: a 5000 year record in Washington, U.S.A. Quaternary Science Reviews 15, 1023-1059, doi:10.1016/S0277-3791(96)00007-8.

Wang, P-L., Engelhart, S.E., Wang, K., Hawkes, A.D., Horton, B.P., Nelson, A.R., and Witter, R.C., 2013. Heterogeneous rupture in the great Cascadia earthquake of 1700 inferred from coastal subsidence estimates. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth 118, 1-14, doi:10.1002/jgrb.50101.

Rivers on Ice: How Similar are Supraglacial Channels on Glaciers to Rivers on Land?

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Contact Project Supervisor: Dr Rebecca Hodge, Prof Chris Stokes, Dr Stewart Jamieson

Project Overview

Supraglacial channels (rivers flowing over ice) are an increasingly common feature of glaciers and ice sheets subjected to a warming climate (Bell et al., 2018; Pitcher and Smith, 2019; Stokes et al., 2019). On mountain glaciers, these channels are important discharge routes for meltwater runoff and may help connect supraglacial to englacial and subglacial meltwater systems, with potential implications for glacier flow. On larger ice sheets and ice shelves, supraglacial channels are typically associated with supraglacial lakes, whose development and drainage can impact on ice sheet mass balance (Bell et al., 2018). However, little is known about how these channels evolve over time, either through a melt season or over much longer time-scales. Superficially, these channels appear to be similar to river channels, but we do not know if they behave and evolve in a similar way.

This project will use remote sensing analysis of freely available data such as Sentinel 2, Landsat 8, Planet and other imagery (e.g. air photographs) to map the planform morphology of channels in different glaciological settings including mountain glaciers, icefields and ice sheets. Timestamped DEMs including the ArcticDEM and Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica will be used to understand changes in response to glacier surface evolution. Depending on the student's interests, channel morphology will be analysed using geomorphometric techniques in a combination of Google Earth Engine, GIS and/or Matlab. These data will be compared quantitatively and statistically against rivers from various tectonic settings around the globe.

Key References

Bell, R.E., Banwell, A.F., Trusel, L.D. & Kingslake, J. (2018) Antarctic surface hydrology and impacts on ice-sheet mass balance. Nature Climate Change 8, 1044-1052.

Pitcher, L.H. & Smith, L.C. (2019) Supraglacial Streams and Rivers. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences 2019 47:1, 421-452.

Stokes, C.R., Sanderson, J.E., Miles, B.W.J., Jamieson, S.S.R. & Leeson, A.A. (2019). Widespread distribution of supraglacial lakes around the margin of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Scientific Reports. 9:13823.