Master thesis projects – University of Copenhagen

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Centre for Ice and Climate > Master thesis projects

Master thesis projects at Centre for Ice and Climate

Do your Master Thesis Project at Centre for Ice and Climate. As a Master student at Centre for Ice and Climate, you will work in an active and dynamic group on a real research project, possibly involving field work on the Greenland ice sheet.

We offer both 6-month and 12-month projects.

Below you can find thesis project suggestions. You are also very welcome to come by the centre and ask the researchers for further options or present your own idea that we can develop together.

The CFA group is looking for five master students

MSc projects in Continuous Flow Analysis (CFA).

Five new master projects are offered at the Center for ice and climate. In the Ice and Climate group we work on analyzing past climate variability by means of ice core analysis. These particular master and bachelor projects involve chemical measurements of ice cores, for example informing on wind patterns, aridity, volcanic eruptions and sea ice variability.

1) Climate signals in the Renland ice core

A 584 m ice core from Eastern Greenland has been analysed by means of CFA. Measurements of the ice core were made in Copenhagen and reveal a detailed history of the past climate reaching through the past glacial and into the last interglacial; the Eemian. A MSc project is available to conduct statistical analysis of the data obtained from Renland. This includes the investigation of past volcanic eruptions, reconstructions of past storm activity and reconstruction of past sea ice variability. This information is critical to improve the ice core chronology and link the climate data to a network of other Greenland ice cores.

2)   Sea ice climate signal in the Renland ice core
In 2016 an ion chromatograph (IC) was installed at CIC as part of the ice core impurity lab in Copenhagen. In late 2015 discrete samples were obtained in 55 cm resolution for all of the 584 m ice core from Eastern Greenland; Renland. These samples hold all of the Holocene and can be analysed by means of IC. The IC measures several ion species that can provide information on the climate of the past; eg. Cl for sea salt, which relates to sea ice and wind speed, SO4 which relates to volcanic eruptions and Br-, which is a new proxy for sea ice. The student would measure Renland discrete samples and estimate changes in sea ice variability over the past 10.000 yrs.  By investigating the discrete samples from Renland, hypothesis related to the large international ice2ice research proposal could be verified or discarded and thus it is likely that the student would also participate in international meetings.

3) Detecting volcanic eruptions in polar ice cores
Volcanic eruptions can be identified in ice cores from Antarctica and Greenland through the deposition of soluble acids as well as insoluble dust and tephra. Studying these volcanic events gives information regarding the climate changes produced by volcanic eruptions, impacts on society as well as offering a means to synchronise climate records distributed over a wide area. The detection of volcanic eruptions is often based on the identification of high acidity, sulphate or conductivity in the ice cores. Volcanic eruptions produce sulphate as well as halogen acid species such as chloride, fluoride and bromide. A MSc project is available to develop new techniques for the detection of volcanoes in ice cores. The projects include creating a record of volcanic eruptions from the Renland ice core over the past 4000 yrs, but also the opportunity to develop new techniques for the continuous measurement of fluoride in ice cores and to measurements by means of Ion Chromatography for sulphate.

4)   Analysis of surface snow-cores from North Greenland
During a traverse in Northern Greenland in 2015, several short snow cores of between 8 and 16 meters were obtained, as well as discrete samples from several snow pits. These samples offer the opportunity to obtain a detailed record of atmospheric change over the past 20 years. The records further hold the 2012 melt event ice layers and can be studied for a spatial extend of the event, during which all of Greenlands surface was above melting temperature for about a week in 2012. A MSc project is available to conduct analysis of the impurities in Greenland traverse snow samples and map the spatial and temporal extent of impurities, to enhance the knowledge on the geographical distribution of impurities across the Greenland ice sheet. This project offers laboratory-based instrumental measurements, data analysis and interpretation.

5) Climate chemistry record from the NEEM ice core
The NEEM ice core covers 130 thousand years of Arctic climate, but there is a 5000 years gap during the Holocene period, from 3000 to 8000 years ago. This gap is due to the ice being brittle and susceptible to damage during handling and processing. The goal of this project is to measure climate proxies in samples collected from the brittle ice, that have been previously measured for water isotopes. The project involves learning Ion Chromatography techniques, and filling in a crucial gap in the knowledge of the past 10 thousand years’ climate. The Ion Chromatograph measures several ion species that can provide information on the climate of the past; eg. Chlorine for sea salt, which relates to sea ice and wind speed, Fluoride and sulphate which relate to volcanic eruptions and Bromide which is a new proxy for sea ice. The NEEM record can inform on how climate has changed during a critical time in human agricultural and technological development, especially regarding the multiple waves of colonialisation of Greenland.

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Atmospheric Hydrogen as a new climatic parameter

We know much about the past atmosphere; E.g. the pace at which greenhouse gas concentrations have varied in the past. Our knowledge stems from the air trapped in ice cores. Interwoven with CH4 and CO are production and destruction processes of molecular hydrogen. Hydrogen thus offers complementary information on important components of the chemistry in our atmosphere. To our knowledge neither concentration nor isotope records of molecular hydrogen exist prior to 1993 (2). Our final goal is to extend this record based on ice core measurements. However, several aspects of such an endeavor are unclear. 1) Due to the small molecule size of H2 it is expected that hydrogen is lost after recovery of the ice core. 2) Hydrogen may fractionate during the last step of air occlusion in the ice. Both aspects need clarification. The master thesis has two aspects 1) Measure the permeability of molecular hydrogen through natural ice. 2) Investigate the potential fractionation during air occlusion in polar firn. For the measurement a system needs to be designed and built. Our current deep drill project EGRIP ( offers access to freshly drilled core to investigate above mentioned questions

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Oxygen isotopes (of atmospheric oxygen)

Ice from the bottom of the Greenland ice sheet is difficult to date as it is often disconnected from the continuous climate record above. However, it would be very important to know where Greenland was glaciated in earlier warm periods to get better projections into the future (e.g. Figure 0.1).  The changes in the oxygen isotopes of O2 can be used to date Greenland ice core sections by matching them to their well dated Antarctic counterparts. The project focuses on measurements of the deep sections of ice cores in our archive and dating those sections. The focus will be on the historic Camp Century core ( The project is available immediately.

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CO2 in the ancient atmosphere

Reconstructions of atmospheric CO2 concentrations revealed significant changes on glacial-interglacial time scale but also on shorter intervals like over the present warm period. Concentration measurements do not give any information about the processes responsible for these changes in CO2 concentrations. Here the isotopes of carbon have been proven to be useful. The carbon isotope signatures of the major carbon reservoirs (ocean, biosphere, sediments and atmosphere) diver. Therefore the d13C of CO2 in combination with its concentration reveals variations in the C fluxes between those reservoirs. We have a working system to measure concentration and isotopic composition of CO2 extracted from ancient air trapped in the polar ice sheets. In the frame of collaborative ice core drilling projects in Antarctica samples need to be measured and interpreted. This will be the topic of a master project that is available immediately.

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Methane and the clathrate gun hypothesis of fast climate change

Enormous amounts of CH4 are sitting on the ocean floor in the form of methane hydrates (also called clathrates). Clathrates are cages formed by water molecules where gas molecules are trapped in the hollow space inside the cage. This symbiotic structure is stable at low temperature/ high pressure. The clathrate gun hypothesis speculates that a spontaneous release of methane from clathrates increases the atmospheric methane composition to the degree where the boosted greenhouse effect triggers climate change. So far we have not found any sign of such catastrophic events occurring. However, it is speculated that less dramatic release from clathrates might happen during times of rapid climate change. Such events are hard to catch due to the short lifetime of CH4 in the atmosphere. Atmospheric CH4 originating from clathrates has a distinct isotopic composition of hydrogen. So far we are able to measure the carbon isotopic composition. The master thesis project involves extending our measurement capacities to isotopes of hydrogen, testing the new system, and performing first measurements over a climatologically interesting time period. This is a 12 month project.

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Development of a technique for determination of sulphate (SO42-) in ice cores by optical colourimetry

Colourimetry may offer a way of achieving reliable, high resolution determination of sulphate concentrations in melted ice core samples. This project involves the investigation and implementation of the most efficient, sensitive and reliable means of producing a colourimetric reaction between sulphate ions and indicator dyes, and then evaluating and recording the signal. Predominantly chemistry and physics skills will be required, but the project will also involve interfacing optical spectrometers and software control programs.

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Testing a prototype laser based instrument for isotopes of the greenhouse gas N2O and applying it to ice core research

In recent years, laser based instruments has shown huge advances in application to trace gas isotope and concentration measurements. The Centre for Ice and Climate has collaborated with Picarro Inc. in developing a novel mid-infrared laser spectrometer for such measurements. The analyser measures the site specific isotope ratios of nitrous oxide. Your project involves: Tuning and testing the new instrument i.e. optimizing precision and accuracy under various conditions. Measure a first ice core record of N2O isotopomers. First conceptual interpretation of the measured variations of the N2O isotopomers.

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Speciale Projekt in measurement of water isotopes in polar snow with laser spectroscopy.

Description of the project
We are looking for a motivated student to work with a state of the art laser spectrometer in the Stable Isotope Laboratory at the Center for Ice and Climate. The main objective of the project is the measurement of triple isotopic ratios δ18O,  δ17O,  δD for a set of surface snow samples that were collected during a traverse between the NEEM (NW Greenland) and EGRIP (NE Greenland) ice core sites. The particularly challenging measurement of the excess signal between O18 and O17 will be attempted and for this, advanced sample preparation and data analysis techniques will be developed and tested.
Skills expected, Experience you will gain.
You have familiarity with instruments and understanding of measurement principles. Good command of English and experience with excel type programs. At the end of the project you will be able to perform data analysis using numerical tools you will build using a programming language like Python (prior experience in Python is a plus). You will be able to validate water isotope measurements and you will gain experience in high resolution/precision/accuracy stable isotope analysis. At the end of the project you will also have  gained deep understanding of Laser Spectroscopy Techniques and sample preparation as well as interpretation of isotopic ratios from polar precipitation.

Contact: Vasileios Gkinis

MSc projects studying water isotopes

Two master projects are offered related to the studies of water isotopes. Water isotopes are influenced by temperature and extensively used to inform on past climate

1) Student project on evaporation from a water, snow, and ice body Purpose: To test the Craig-Gordon evaporation model (Craig and Gordon, 1965) in order to improve the parameterization used over water, snow, and ice. This experiment will be the first in a series of experiments, which has the purpose of understanding the role of kinetic effects – specifically the kinetic effects induced by variability in wind speed. Why now: The availability of continuous water vapor isotope analyzers makes it possible to study the isotopic evolution under non-equilibrium conditions. This has not before been utilized and will make it possible to simulate real world conditions without having to obtain steady state conditions for long enough time to cryogenically collect a sample. Why a student project: This proposed project is ideal for a group of 2-3 students on bachelor level or 1-2 studens on master level. The tasks involve building an evaporation chamber and characterizing the setup before making direct measurements on the isotopic flux. The theory is well established and tested however several parameters are poorly constrained. However, there exists the possibility that we in the end will have to re-evaluate if the theory actually is sufficient of if we need to establish a new evaporation model. However that is outside the scope of this student-project but something, which I am working towards. The students will gain insight into good practice in relation to designing, executing, and analyzing an experiment and will use statistical tools to analyze the measurements. Tools and external support needed: Water vapor isotope analyzer, temperature sensors, Swagelok fittings, solenoid valves, and some degree of workshop help will be needed. The costs is quite low as much of the equipment is already at CIC. 

2) Using concomitant water isotopes in vapor and precipitation to understand the physical processes governing the formation of precipitation The climate system is continuously evolving in response to natural perturbations. However, over the last 150 years we have observed global climate change that is very likely attributable to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (IPCC, 2001, 2007). A major component in the climate system is the hydrological cycle, in particular through the role of positive feedback mechanisms from water vapor and clouds (Bony et al., 2006;Soden and Held, 2006). It is therefore of utmost importance for our understanding and prediction of future climate variability that we improve our knowledge about the physical processes influencing precipitation and water vapor in the atmosphere. Several recent studies, combining local data and atmospheric modeling, have found that the intensity of rainfall events depends on the available atmospheric moisture at the initial time of a storm event (Trenberth et al., 2003). In response to increasing global temperatures, the amount of atmospheric moisture is expected to increase, following the Clausius-Clapeyron equation with about 7% per degree K (Trenberth, 2011). An increase in the number of extreme precipitation events (>95th percentile) (even in regions where seasonal precipitation is expected to decrease) is therefore predicted, exposing populations and human activities to increased flood risks (Min et al., 2011;Christensen and Christensen, 2003). Understanding the processes involved in moisture uptake and storage in the atmosphere is therefore crucial for assessing future climate risks. Water stable isotopes (1H218O and 1H2H16O) have for several decades been a corner stone in climate research (Craig and Gordon, 1965;Epstein and Mayeda, 1953;Dansgaard, 1953). Water stable isotopes also represent a crucial analytical tool for understanding the physical processes in the atmosphere and interactions between land/ocean surfaces and atmosphere (Jouzel and Merlivat, 1984;Merlivat and Jouzel, 1979;Landais et al., 2010;Risi et al., 2008;Bony et al., 2008;Schmidt et al., 2005). We have at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences since the Fall of 2011 operated a continuous water vapor isotope Cavity-Ring-Down-Spectrometer (CRDS) analyzer (Steen-Larsen et al., 2014) thereby obtaining the longest calibrated record of water vapor isotope observations. Together with these observations, we have collected on event basis precipitation samples, which have been measured for their isotopic composition as well. The student will perform a direct comparison between the precipitation isotope values and the atmospheric water vapor isotope observations before, during and after the precipitation event. The relationship between the observed water vapor and precipitation isotopes will be compared with theoretical calculations and similarities and discrepancies will be discussed. If time permits the observations will also be used to benchmark similar relationships from isotope-enabled General Circulation Models (Werner et al., 2011;Risi et al., 2010;Yoshimura et al., 2008).  

Prerequisites The student should as a minimum have basic experience with Matlab/Python. The student will after successful completion of the project have learned the following skills - Water isotope analysis techniques. - Data analysis of large data sets using high-level technical computing language. - Precipitation collection protocol for both major ions and water isotopes. - Ability to use water isotope techniques to understand physical processes controlling the atmospheric hydrological cycle. - Understanding of hydrological processes controlled by the ocean-atmosphere interaction. - Understanding of basic cloud processes affecting the water isotopic signal.

Contact: Hans Christian Steen-Larsen

Deep drilling project: ECM

The electrical conduction is mainly due to high concentrations of ions in the ice from past major volcanic eruptions. The detection of the volcanic signals, their chemical concentrations and frequency are important climate parameters but can also be used to transfer the time scales between ice cores. The aim of this project is to further develop equipment to measure the electrical properties (ECM) of the ice along the ice cores.
The Master project is within climate research and has the potential to lead to cutting edge ice core research.

Contact: Dorthe Dahl-Jensen.

Deep drilling project: The ice crystals

When snow is compressed to ice, crystals are formed with nearly random orientation. As the ice is further compressed and moves down in the ice sheet the ice crystals grow and the crystal orientation is influenced by ice deformation. The aim of this project is to measure the crystal size and orientation with depth. The results can be used to understand and develop anisotopic deformation laws for ice. The Master project is within climate research and has the potential to lead to cutting edge ice core research.

Contact: Anders Svensson.

High-resolution impurity sampling of rain water

In ice cores, we can measure very high-resolution records of atmospheric impurity levels far back in time. It is, however, not evident how this signal is being transferred from aerosol concentrations in the air to impurity concentrations in the snow, later to be measured in the ice core. The goal of this project is to investigate the relation between aerosols in precipitation over Denmark under various weather conditions, and examine how the impurity levels change during a rain event. The student will collect water samples, measure them for impurities in the laboratory, use climate model data to understand where the air masses are coming from, and conduct statistical analysis on the differences between events and changes in impurity levels across an event.

Contact: Mai Winstrup

Ice flow and extreme weather
Drone and Satellite observations of surface elevation and velocity at EGRIP
In connection to the study of the NEGIS ice stream we plan high resolution surface elevation mapping using a drone and GPS stakes. We also have developed software (IMGraft) to down load satellite data to map the surface velocities. Master projects in relation to this research can contain a mixture of experimental work on ice stream modelling.

Contacts: Christine Hvidberg and Aslak Grinsted

1) Measuring ice flow from space

In this project you will use satellite imagery to quantify ice flow, and how it changes over time. There are many possible options concerning study region. The project will be using the ImGRAFT open-source toolbox.

Contact: Aslak Grinsted

2) A novel technique for estimating glacier thinning from oblique time-lapse imagery
Pilot tests have shown that a novel technique can be used estimate thinning over very short periods using terrestrial time lapse. In this project you will develop this method further and apply it to photos from Engabreen, Norway. The resulting time series of glacier thinning will be compared and validated against other data from the glacier. The project will be using the ImGRAFT open-source toolbox.

Contact: Aslak Grinsted

 3) Extreme coastal storms in a changing climate
The St. Petersburg Flood of 1824 In this project you will build empirical models of storm surge threat. The aim is to quantify how storm surge threat has changed over time, and whether we can find predictable behaviour. The study can both be global or local in scope. You may also contact me if you are interested in the empirical modelling other types of extreme weather events (hurricane winds/ extreme rain).

Contact: Aslak Grinsted

Team Ocean

The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation is the name for a whole zoo of ocean processes that carry heat from the Gulf of Mexico to Scandinavia. The physical oceanographers at TeamOcean/NBI use computer models of the ocean circulation to investigate these processes, and a MSc thesis in our team will typically focus on theories of ocean circulation and numerical simulations of climate. Our work is based in theories and numerical simulations of ocean circulation. If you have a strong background in physics and mathematics we would very much like to talk to you, and together we can find an ocean-physics based project to work on. We use ultra-high resolution models of the global ocean circulation (see picture) to understand the driving forces behind major ocean currents, and their variability. Thesis topics are taylored to match students' interest and TeamOcean's current focus, but they will all involve High Performance Computing and Big Data. More information can be found on our website:

Contact: Markus Jochum