Professor Grant Bigg

Professor in Earth Systems Science

Grant Bigg

Room number: C7
Telephone (internal): 27905
Telephone (UK): 0114 222 7905
Telephone (International): +44 114 222 7905

Grant Bigg obtained his BSc in physics and applied mathematics from the University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia in 1978, with a BSc (Honours) in applied mathematics the following year. He then became a Tutor in the Department of Applied Mathematics, University of Adelaide, working part-time on a PhD on Diffraction and trapping of waves by cavities and slender bodies. This was completed in 1982, the same year he had a pre-doctoral fellowship at the 1982 Summer Study Program in Geophysical Fluid Dynamics at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

In 1983 he moved overseas to the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge for a postdoctoral position in The sensitivity of inverse methods in oceanography. A year later, he followed his Principal Investigator, Adrian Gill, to the Hooke Institute in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, University of Oxford, where his postdoctoral work broadened to marine climate change.

In 1987 he became a lecturer in the School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1996. He moved to a Chair in Earth Systems Science at Sheffield in 2003, and served as Head of Department from 2006-2012. He currently lectures on oceanography and polar environments.

Research Interests

Ocean and climate modelling, marine climate change specialising in polar and tropical regions, with special interest in synoptic or meso-scale weather systems. Palaeoceanography: modelling and interpreting observations. Icebergs, and their role in the ocean's freshwater flux, both today and in the Quaternary. The interactions between climate change and society.

Current research

The common theme to all my research until recently has been marine climate change. However, many threads contribute to this theme. A major thread is the use, and development, of ocean circulation models to understand climate change on scales from global and millennial to local and sub-monthly. I use a combination of models and remote sensing, with interpreting oceanographic and lower atmospheric data, to increase our understanding of the climatic interaction between the atmosphere and ocean. I use iceberg trajectories to study glacial freshwater inputs to modern and Quaternary oceans. My primary focii of recent years can be divided into the global thermohaline circulation, icebergs and tropical climate change. More recently, however, there has begun to be an increased emphasis on the role environmental change plays in society.


While my specialist teaching is in the fields of oceanography and meteorology, throughout what I teach at both undergraduate and postgraduate level I try to convey the importance of thinking of subjects from an interdisciplinary perspective, using a range of tools students pick up in our skills modules.

This is very much a research-led teaching style, exposing students to current ideas about my specialist subjects as well as the other areas I teach, or the wide range of dissertation topics I supervise. While this involves large-scale lectures when necessary, it also involves tutorial groups and individual supervision, particularly at Masters level.

Grant teaches on a range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses including:

GEO234 Atmospheres and Oceans

GEO402 Current Issues in Environmental Sciences
GEO6608 Current Issues in Environmental Analysis
GEO6611 Polar and Alpine Environments
GEO6612 Current Issues in Polar and Alpine Science

All staff also engage in personal supervision and tutoring of individual students at all three undergraduate levels in the following modules:
GEO163 (Information & Communication Skills for Geographers)
GEO263 or GEO264 (Research Design in Human or Physical Geography)
GEO356 (Geographical Research Project)

Key Publications

  • Bigg, G. R., R. C. Levine, C. D. Clark, S. Greenwood, H. Haflidason, A. L. C. Hughes, A. Nygård, H. P. Sejrup, 2012, Sensitivity of the North Atlantic circulation to break-up of the marine sectors of the NW European ice sheets during the last Glacial: a synthesis of modelling and palaeoceanography, Glob. Planet. Change, 98-99, 153-165.
  • Bigg, G. R., R. C. Levine, C. L. Green, 2011, Modelling abrupt glacial North Atlantic freshening: rates of change and their implications for Heinrich events, Glob. Planet. Change, 79, 176-192.
  • Bigg, G.R., Cunningham, C.W., Ottersen, G., Pogson, G., Wadley, M.R. and Williamson, P. (2008). Ice age survival of Atlantic cod: agreement between palaeo-ecology models and genetics. Proceedings of The Royal Society B, 275(1631), 163-172.
  • Bigg, G.R., Clark, C.D. and Hughes, A.L.C. (2008). A last glacial ice sheet on the Pacific Russian coast and catastrophic change arising from coupled ice–volcanic interaction. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 265(3-4), 559-570.
  • Silva, T.A.M., Bigg, G.R., and Nicholls, K.W. (2006). The contribution of giant icebergs to the Southern Ocean freshwater flux. Journal of Geophysical Research, 111, C3, C03004
  • Bigg, G.R., Jickells, T.D., Liss, P.S. and Osborn, T. (2003). Current developments in the interaction between the ocean and climate. International Journal of Climatology, 23(10), 1127-1159.
  • Bigg, G.R. (2003). The Oceans and Climate, 2nd edition, Cambridge University Press.
  • Wadley, M.R. and Bigg, G.R., (2002). Impact of flow through the Canadian Archipelago on the North Atlantic and Arctic thermohaline circulation: an ocean modelling study, Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 128 (585), 2187-2203.

Other information

Grant is an Associate Director of the Centre for the Study of Genocide and Mass Violence and the Sheffield Centre for Drylands Research (SCIDR).

He is a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society and the Royal Geographical Society; he is a member of the Quaternary Research Association, the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union. He was a member of the Council of the Royal Meteorological Society in the early 1990s and editor of the Society's journal, Weather, for five years until 2003. He has recently been an Associate Editor of the Journal of Climate, and is currently an editor of the International Journal of Oceanography and Chair of the Editorial Board of the Challenger Society for Marine Science’s Ocean Challenge.

He has acted as external examiner for postgraduate degrees in Britain, the Netherlands, Australia and Jamaica and undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Britain.

Grant is a keen walker, with his border terrier. He has also recorded meteorological data on two continents for almost 40 years.