2021 start

Polar and Alpine Change

Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences

Prepare for a research career in cold-regions science with our MSc(Res). You’ll develop key analytical skills and research techniques, conduct a year-long independent research project, and have the opportunity to become an active member of the department's Ice and Climate research group.
Student participating in fieldwork in glacial territory

Course description

This unique course prepares you for a research career in cold-regions science, notably within the disciplines of glaciology, glacial geomorphology, polar climatology/oceanography, environmental science, polar biogeochemical processes, or their intersections. We train graduates from a range of scientific disciplines.

The course operates at the cutting edge of climate science, as its key focus is to explore the expressions, mechanisms and impacts of rapid ongoing changes in our planet’s cold regions.

An integral part of the course is the Arctic/Alpine field course, which is usually in the summer towards the end of the academic year. The costs for this field course are not included in the tuition fee. You'll gain an in-depth knowledge of the location you visit. You'll also develop skills in relevant research approaches and techniques.

Course structure

You'll complete 180 compulsory credits of study, comprising four modules taken over one year full-time.

You'll carry out a year-long research project where you'll undertake original and independent research in your chosen field. While you develop and execute your project, we'll give you close supervision. You'll be a member of the department's vibrant research community – our Ice and Climate Research group – and you'll have the opportunity to present your findings to the group.

During the first semester, modules will help you develop your research ideas and produce a formal project proposal. You'll also have the chance to to explore research approaches and develop your analytical and research communication skills.

Field class

The field class combines taught sessions with group research. Group work undertaken by students in previous years includes: meteorology, glacier hydrology, glacier hydrochemistry, ground penetrating radar studies of glacier structure and glacial geomorphology, and glacier reconstruction using geomorphological evidence and relative dating techniques. Recent field class locations have included Greenland and Svalbard.

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    Explore core and optional modules


    Modules are delivered through a mixture of lectures, seminars, workshops and independent study.


    The research project is assessed by oral presentation of mid-project findings, submission of a project report in the summer and by a poster presentation of project findings.


    1 year full-time

    Your career

    This course provides an exceptional level of research training and experience. These kinds of skills are why our graduates are successful in both further study at PhD level or a research-centred career.

    Our graduates have gone on to secure competitive PhD positions at research-intensive UK institutions that specialise in cold-regions research, as well as institutions further afield, including Norway and Sweden. Other graduates have gone on to become environmental professionals.

    Most applicants are interested in a research career. After your masters you might pursue further study at PhD and then an academic position where you can go on to push the frontiers of knowledge. We'll help you prepare for a research career while you study with us. For example, we provide guidance on applying for a PhD and you'll receive support from a tutor as well as guidance from the department's Ice and Climate Research group.

    The department has a wide range of expertise which meant that there were lots of interesting areas to pick from when selecting dissertation projects. The field course was also a huge bonus and I really enjoyed spending the summer studying in Svalbard, being able to see the environments and processes that I had learnt about and doing fieldwork in beautiful locations.

    Emma Lewington
    MSc(Res) Polar and Alpine Change

    Entry requirements

    You’ll need a minimum of a good 2:1 honours degree showing first-class potential in relevant subject areas, including (but not restricted to) physical geography, environmental/earth/ocean sciences, geology, physics and natural science. You will also need evidence of engagement with and/or aptitude in geoscientific research through a personal statement and research document (e.g. undergraduate dissertation report).

    English language requirements

    Overall IELTS score of 7.0 with a minimum of 6.5 in each component, or equivalent.

    This course provides a unique research experience that seeks to embed our students within the Ice and Climate Research (ICERS) group. The ICERS team at Sheffield is one of the largest cold-regions research groupings in the UK and research undertaken by the group is wide in scope and highly regarded internationally. Students are mentored closely throughout the development and execution of their research, developing a strong professional working relationship with specific group members. This setup provides an ideal environment in which to undertake a research training masters, as evidenced by our remarkable track record of past graduate success.

    Dr Felix Ng
    Programme Director


    You can apply for postgraduate study using our Postgraduate Online Application Form. It's a quick and easy process.

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    +44 114 222 7900

    The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption. We are no longer offering unrestricted module choice. If your course included unrestricted modules, your department will provide a list of modules from their own and other subject areas that you can choose from.