Professor Chris D Clark

Sorby Chair of Geoscience

Chris Clark

Room number: E6
Telephone (internal): 27941
Telephone (UK): 0114 222 7941
Telephone (International): +44 114 222 7941


Chris Clark obtained his BSc in physical geography from University of Wales, Aberystwyth in 1985. After this he worked as a milkman in order to earn money for a climbing expedition to the Himalayas. He returned to academia at Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Edinburgh to work on a PhD on "Reconstruction of the behaviour of the Laurentide Ice Sheet using satellite imagery", which was completed in 1990, and the results published in Nature.

Chris became a lecturer at Sheffield in 1990 and was awarded a personal chair in 2004, and holds the Sorby Chair of Geoscience since 2009. He currently lectures on Glacial Geomorphology and Glaciology, and on GIS.

Chris has supervised 14 PhD students, five of whom now have lectureships and five have research posts. He has acted as external examiner on PhDs in Britain, Sweden and France, as an associate editor for the Annals of Glaciology, and guest editor for Boreas. He is currently external examiner for the Aberystwyth MSc in Glaciology, and serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Earth Surface Processes and Landforms.

Chris is a member of subpanel 17, 'Geography, Environment Studies and Archaeology', in the forthcoming Research Excellence Framework (REF2014) which aims to assess the quality of research in UK universities.


Research Interests:

Palaeoglaciology (the extent and dynamics of former ice sheets) and palaeo-ice stream signatures and ice-stream operation. Remote sensing, digital elevation models (DEMs), glacial geomorphology.

Full publication list, abstracts and links for download can be found at Google Scholar

Current Research:

The common theme is the use of Earth Observation (EO, ie satellite imagery) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to gain a larger scale perspective than is permitted by field observations alone. For some cases, straightforward use of imagery is sufficient and in others methodological advances have been required. My emphasis has not been on 'how can such data be used' but rather on 'making advances in knowledge' from it. I have published on a wide range of Earth Observation methods and applications, including palaeo-glaciology, snowcover mapping, archaeology, coral reef, seagrass and mangrove assessment.

My primary research interest is in glacial geomorphology, in particular the understanding of processes that lead to the formation of subglacial bedforms (drumlins, flutes etc), and the inverse solution that uses the pattern and distribution of such landforms to reconstruct the behaviour of ice sheets that existed during the last glaciation. I choose to use satellite imagery for these purposes because they frequently permit new evidence to be detected and because they allow mapping at a scale compatible with the former ice sheet.

The ultimate aim of this work is to build up a detailed picture of the evolution of former ice sheets through the last glacial cycle and to use this information to improve both ice sheet and climate models. Part of this research effort has necessarily involved EO and GIS methodology development.

A five year NERC consortium project, BRITICE-CHRONO, started in 2012. Chris leads this endeavor which involves some 40+ researchers from eight universities, plus the British Geological Survey, British Antarctic Survey, NERC's radiocarbon facility and Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre. The focus is on the former British-Irish Ice Sheet. They want to know how rapidly ice retreated across the continental shelf and across the marine-to-terrestrial transition and then use this knowledge to improve numerical ice sheet models that will be used to predict changes in our existing ice sheets. Improved data on ice retreat rates will also be of great use to provide the longer term (100-1,000 year) context against which contemporary observations (years to decades) can be assessed. Some 200 locations around the British Isles have been identified and will be accessed using a NERC ship and by intensive fieldwork onshore, leading to an anticipated 800 new dates to constrain the retreat rate.

Highlights of my research are:

  • Mega-scale glacial lineations
  • Ice sheet reconstructions
  • Palaeo ice streams
  • The British Ice Sheet - BRITICE
  • Drumlins


Aligning with my main research interests and skills, my teaching is used to impart knowledge, technological expertise and curiosity about glacial environments. I am particularly interested in teaching about how we can use landforms from past glaciations to better understand how ice sheets and glaciers work, and from this, to inform us about the operation of the existing ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland and the mountain glaciers of the world.

I teach students how to use geographic information systems (GIS) and satellite images to analyse and advance knowledge, and in the second year I teach some of the basics of glaciology and glaciation. By the third year, once our students have become proficient at reading published academic papers on the latest advances, we get stuck in on some interesting topics about the production of glacial landforms and how we can use these to decipher the extent and dynamics of ice sheets, such as the one that once covered Britain.

My main teaching activity is via lectures but also includes practical classes, reading groups where we interrogate scientific publications, and some class debates and discussions. For me some of the most satisfying 'teaching' is in supervising the undergraduate research projects (dissertations) and especially so when we discover something new.

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

GEO233 Glacial Environments
GEO345 Glacial & Periglacial Geomorphology

GEO6611 Polar and Alpine Environments
GEO6613 Arctic/Alpine Field Course

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)


View full list of publications