Student Research Opportunities

MSc/PhD opportunities in Paleoglaciology, paleohydrology and Quaternary environmental change

Research in the Paleoglaciology Lab in the Department of Geography, Faculty of Environment, Simon Fraser University is aimed at reconstruct paleo-ice sheet hydrology and ice dynamics from empirical (geomorphic and sedimentary) evidence in order to further knowledge of paleoenvironmental change during the Quaternary period and provide accurate verification data (e.g., ice margin positions, meltwater channel types and characteristics) for numerical ice sheet models, vital for improving models and their predictions of future deglaciation and associated landscape change. There are a number of specific research projects available but students are also encouraged to develop their own projects within the broader thematic areas of my research program: paleo-ice sheet hydrology, paleo-ice sheet dynamics, and paleoenvironmental change.

Specific projects

1) The morphogenetic classification of eskers

These projects (at least three in seperate regions) include both field and remote sensing components.  Landform-scale fieldwork will use sedimentology, shallow geophysics, DEMs and GIS to describe esker characteristics and infer genesis and meltwater channel type in BC and Alberta. Remote sensing will be used to quantify esker morphometry and develop a predictive algorithm for the remote classification of esker genetic types.  Esker remote predictive mapping will guide aggregate and mineral exploration of eskers, and improve the use of eskers as verification for numerical ice sheet models, and in geomorphic inversion-based paleo-ice sheet reconstructions on Earth and Mars.

2) Last Cordillern Ice Sheet ice-dammed proglacial lakes: implications for the style and pattern of ice sheet decay

These projects (likely two in separate basins) would use geomorphic and sedimentologic observations (possibly also shallow geophysics and optical or cosmogenic dating) and remoteley sensed data in a GIS in order to reconstruct lake paleogeography, determine the volume of water stored, and explore and model (paleohydrology, paleohydraulics) the nature of lake drainage.  Such data will allow the style and pattern of paleo-ice sheet decay to be reconstructed, and will facilitate estimates of landscape change and water routing associated with drainage events.  Basins to be explored include the Arrow Lakes, Purcell and Slocan basins amongst others in BC.

3) Last-glacial subglacial lakes within the footprints of North American ice sheets: testing model predictions

These projects (likely two or three in BC) will explore the sedimentary, stratigraphic and geomorphic record in basins with a modeled high potential for paleo-subglacial lake formation and thus refine the diagnostic criteria for the identification of paleo-subglacial lakes. Knowledge of the geologic record of paleo-subglacial lakes will assist glaciologists in their early exploration of present-day subglacial lakes. Knowledge of the associations between paleo-subglacial lakes and their surrounding glacial geomorphology will allow the effect of subglacial lakes on meltwater drainage, ice flow and ice streams to be assessed.


Some other possible projects could include:

4) Character and environment of the Nicomen gravel and/or other thick gravel packages within the Thompson River valley, BC.

This field project will enhance our knowledge of the character of ice sheet advance and/or retreat.  Thick sheet-like gravel beds within otherwise braided gravel units in valley-fill sequences suggest periodic flooding during ice advance/retreat which in turn favours surging behavior in the ice sheet. To date the relative age of these sequences has been asserted from loose stratigraphic position; optical dating would provide absolute ages for the sediments.  No detailed sedimentologic descriptions of these gravels have yet been made.

5) 3D architecture and composition of subglacial bedforms in the Puget Lowland and/or on the BC interior plateau.

This field project will provide new datasets to address the question of subglacial bedform genesis under the Cordilleran Ice Sheet (CIS), and under ice sheets more generally.  It is timely in that streamlined bedforms have been recently imaged beneath an Antarctic ice stream, and are often used as an indicator of paleo-ice stream locations, yet their genesis remains allusive.  We are curently quantifying the morphometry of Puget Lowland subglacial bedforms, and assessing controls on bedform morphometry. This project would build on that work and produce detailed 3D models of the sedimentary architecture of select bedforms in order to elucidate their genesis. An alternative or contrasting location for this project is the BC interior plateau.


Applicants should be highly-motivated, with a solid background in Quaternary geology and/or geomorphology, and/or paleoglaciology/paleohydrology/paleohydraulics and of excellent academic standing. You should also have experience in, or a desire to learn, sedimentology, topographic surveying, digital terrain analysis, aerial photograph interpretation, GIS, remote sensing, shallow geophysical techniques, and/or geochronology depending on the project. Physical fitness, and prior backcountry and/or field work experience will be considered an asset in field projects.

Funding and applications

Interested students are encouraged to contact me as soon as possible via email ( and to send a CV/resume, an unofficial copy of university transcripts, and a brief statement of scientific interests. For official application instructions please consult the Department of Geography Graduate Program website. The deadline for applications from students wishing to enter the graduate program are January 22nd (September entry for PhD and MSc students; consideration for SFU scholarships and awards) and September 15th (January entry under excetional circumstances for PhD students only). Funding for masters and doctoral students in the Paleoglaciology Lab is available through a combination of scholarships, research assistantships, grants and teaching assistantships. Externally funded students are encouraged to apply.

Post-doctoral opportunities

I welcome applications from post-doctoral researchers with external funding who wish to pursue research that falls within the thematic areas of my research program: paleo-ice sheet hydrology, paleo-ice sheet dynamics, and paleoenvironmental change. An excellent source of funding is the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship, open to Canadians and international applicants. Another funding possibility is the Mitacs Elevate Postdoctoral Fellowship if your project has industry interest. Select external funding sources are listed on my links page. UK applicants may also obtain funding through the Leverhulme Trust.

Undergraduate student opportunities

I welcome applications from undergraduate students interested in taking up research assistantships. I normally have field assistant positions open for the summer, and work study (labratory/GIS) positions open year round. The annual deadline for applications for funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council - Undergraduate Student Research Awards (NSERC-USRA) program, the program I typically use to fund summer field assistants, is mid-January. Information about the work study program is available here.

For further information contact:

Tracy A. Brennand
Department of Geography
Simon Fraser University
8888 University Drive
Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6 CANADA

office: RCB 7137
phone: 778.782.3617778.782.3617
fax: 778.782.5841