Master thesis projects – University of Copenhagen

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. In the Ice and Climate group we work on analyzing past climate variability by means of ice core analysis. 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

MSc projects in Continuous Flow Analysis (CFA).

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) Further Development of the LISA (Light weight In-Situ Analysis) box (60 ECTS).
A light weight version of a Continuous Flow analysis (CFA) system has been developed and tested in Greenland field conditions. The box is developed for investigating surface variability of volcanic eruptions, forest fires and accumulation. The box is currently equipped with a conductivity sensor (volcanoes), and two florescence detectors. This project is on further making the box suitable for insoluble dust particles, as well as on improving the depth registration. The project offers extensive laboratory work, data analysis and interpretation and dependent on timing possibly field work in Greenland.

2) 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.

3) Analysis of surface snow-cores from central Greenland
In summer 2017, a team of 6 operated a wind-powered kite-sled from southwest Greenland to Northeast Greenland, collecting snow-cores along the way. Several 2 metre snow cores were obtained, offering a detailed map of changes in snow accumulation and aerosol deposition patterns across central Greenland. An MSc project is available to conduct analysis of the impurities in Greenland windsled traverse 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.

4) Volcanic events, Desert dust and other climate proxies in the Antarctic Mt Brown South ice core.
A 295 m ice core from Mt Brown South in coastal East Antarctica was drilled in 2017/8 and will be analysed at University of Copenhagen in late 2018. The core records the past 1000 years of Antarctic climate variability. Multiple MSc projects are available to study proxy records to be measured in the Mt Brown ice core. These proxies include Dust particles originating from distant deserts; Sodium and chloride for sea salt, which relates to sea ice and wind speed; Ammonium and formate which are indicators of forest fires; Acidity, Fluoride and sulphate which relate to volcanic eruptions; Bromide, a new proxy for sea ice.  MSc projects will include participating in CFA and Ion Chromatograph measurement campaigns, conducting continuous measurements of chemical impurities in the ice, data analysis and interpretation. The climate data will complement a network of other Antarctic and Greenland ice cores.


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

More information and contact

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.

More information and contact

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.

More information and contact

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.

More information and contact

Isotope group

Measurement of water isotopes in polar snow with laser spectroscopy (Msc project)

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

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 or Anders Svensson.

EGRIP 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 and will include periods of measurements at the Alfred-Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany.

Contact: Anders Svensson or Dorthe Dahl-Jensen.

Ice flow modelling

1) Ice flow 

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

2) 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

3) 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

 4) 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