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Student Vacation Research Assistant: Quantifying ablation and debris properties on Miage Glacier, Italy - Open to current University of Worcester students only*

Research Assistantships provide undergraduates and recent graduates with ‘hands on’ experience of working on a research project over the summer vacation, enabling them to gain insight into a research career, as well as enhancing their CV.

Dr Cat Fyffe (CF) and Dr Amy Woodget (AW) (post-doctoral researcher at UW) are currently investigating ice melt (ablation) and debris cover formation in dirty ice areas (where ice has a discontinuous cover of debris). This research involves using UAV data to determine spatially distributed ablation over areas of dirty ice. These data will be used to validate improved models of ablation of dirty ice areas and further the understanding of the processes which lead to debris cover formation on glaciers.

This research has been awarded funding of £3,526 from the British Society for Geomorphology (BSG) to cover all travel and subsistence expenses for the project. The BSG grant will therefore cover travel and subsistence for the student employed under the VRA scheme, as well as for CF and AW. This work will be conducted in collaboration with Northumbria and Dundee Universities.

The research has two main aims:

1. To validate and improve melt modelling techniques for dirty ice.

2. To improve the understanding of the processes of debris supply and remobilisation which lead to debris cover formation.

To meet these aims the research has two objectives:

i) to validate a new method (established by CF and AW) to determine spatially distributed ablation from UAV data, and

ii) investigate the relationships between debris properties and UAV data (to allow debris properties to be ascertained for the entire study area).

Student Project 

The aims of the student project will be to:

1. Determine how ice ablation rates vary with debris thickness and percentage cover using ablation stakes at 15 points within the study area

2. Determine the variation in debris properties over an area of dirty ice

3. Record the location of control points (used to georeference the UAV data), ablation stakes and debris sample plots using a total station and differential GPS

The student will therefore assist with the installation and measurement of ablation stakes and measurement of debris properties within sample plots. They will also survey in the location of the ablation and debris measurements as well as the control points used to geo-reference the UAV data. After fieldwork the student will enter data into Excel and perform initial analysis to calculate ablation rates. It must be stressed that the whole field team will assist with these measurements and undergraduate students have been involved with similar measurements in the past. Timescales are detailed within the job description below.

*Please note that this post is open only to students completing the penultimate or final year of an undergraduate degree (or equivalent) at the University of Worcester or partner institutions;


Students completing, or who have completed, an undergraduate degree at another university (with 1st or 2:1 predicted/achieved) who are about to commence postgraduate studies at the University of Worcester.

Closing date: Monday 05 Jun 2017

Reference number: STUVRA1716 - 2015

Job details

Job details

£8.44 per hour, plus £1.18 per hour holiday pay
4 weeks (but see main duties for details)
Responsible to
Dr Catriona Fyffe
Responsible for
Interview date
w/c/ 12/6/2017

Institute of Science and the Environment

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“The Institute’s acclaimed research has a common thread: our belief that science should be centred around its impact on people”
Professor John Newbury, Head of Institute



The University of Worcester is funding 20 Vacation Research Assistantships for the summer of 2017. These Research Assistantships will provide undergraduates and recent graduates with ‘hands on’ experience of working on a research project over the summer vacation, enabling them to gain insight into a research career, as well as enhancing their CV. These are prestigious awards, marking out a student as a future researcher and potential academic. In addition, this scheme provides UW staff leading on a research project with invaluable support in taking the project forward and experience of supporting and developing a young researcher. 

On completion of the project, the supervisor and student must complete a report providing the following information:

• Objectives set

• Objectives met

• Methods employed

• Results

• Conclusions

• Outputs

• Benefits to the student including training undertaken, skills developed, etc.

Main duties

Main duties

The project will be led by Dr Cat Fyffe (CF) in collaboration with Dr Amy Woodget (AW). The student’s main responsibility will be to determine distributed ablation over an area of partially debris-covered ice, on Miage Glacier, Italy. The student will work with researchers during two field campaigns (one in July for 13 days and another in August for 5 days). In order to measure distributed ablation, a drone or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) will be flown over the study area (by AW), with the imagery tied to a co-ordinate system using control points. To record the location of the control points the student will be required to assist with the use of a differential GPS system and total station. The student will also assist in validating the information from the UAV by measuring ablation at stake locations and characterising the debris cover (in terms of albedo, debris thickness, clast size, debris volume and percentage debris cover). The student will be required to attend a training day prior to fieldwork to receive guidance on the use of the total station and differential GPS system, with further support given in the field. The data will be collected in close collaboration with the research team, so that the student will always be supervised in the field. The student will be involved in one day of post-fieldwork data entry and initial analysis using MS Excel.
The student’s working pattern will involve:

  • 1 day of pre-fieldwork training on UW campus with CF and AW (use of the total station, differential GPS, safe fieldwork practices and the theory behind the measurements)
  • 13 days of fieldwork in July (provisionally 12-24th of July). This includes travel and contingency time. The exact working pattern will be weather dependant.
  • 5 days of fieldwork in August (provisionally 17-21st August). This includes travel.
  • 1 day of post-fieldwork data entry and initial analysis using MS Excel on UW campus.

This results in a total of 20 working days or 4 weeks full-time.

*Maintain personal and professional development to meet the changing demands of the job; participate in appropriate training activities and encourage and support staff in their development and training.

*Take steps to ensure and enhance personal health, safety and well being and that of other staff and students.

*Carry out these duties in a manner that promotes equality of opportunity and supports diversity and inclusion, and takes into account the University's commitment to environmentally sustainable ways of working.
Person specification

Person specification

Please provide evidence of how you meet each of the essential criteria.


 1. An interest in glaciology and hydrology, as evidenced by choice of undergraduate degree modules.

 2. An interest in the use of novel remote sensing technologies for data acquisition.

 3. An ability to work well in a team.

 4. An ability to work methodically, following procedures, with excellent attention to detail.

 5. Experience of physical geography fieldwork and of working outdoors.

 6. An ability to work overseas in a remote mountain environment.

 7. Knowledge and experience of using MS Excel for data entry and simple calculations.


 1. Knowledge of basic glacier dynamics and ablation processes, as evidenced by previous taught study.

 2. Familiarity with UAVs and how they can be used to collect valuable data for research purposes.

 3. Experience of using handheld GPS

 4. Experience of conducting fieldwork in mountain environments, especially glacial settings.

Applications from Non EEA Workers

Prospective applicants are advised to ensure that they are eligible to work in the UK without restriction. Prospective applicants in points-based system immigration routes should assess their circumstances against the published criteria, which are set out on the GOV.UK website at Visit for more information on how you can use a qualification from outside the UK to meet the requirements of the immigration rules.

Unspent convictions, cautions and bind-overs

The University is strongly committed to the fair treatment of its staff and potential staff, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, responsibility for dependants, age, physical/mental disability or offending background. In line with the University's policy on the Recruitment of People with a Criminal Record, shortlisted candidates are required to provide information of any unspent convictions, cautions and bind-overs. Applicants are advised to seek independent advice if there is any doubt about the status of a previous conviction, caution or bind-over. Disclosures will only be considered at the point when an offer of employment is made. The existence of a criminal record will not in itself prevent you from gaining employment.
This is a description of the job as it is presently constituted. This job description is intended to enable a flexible approach to be offered working across the University as required. It is subject to review and amendment in the light of changing needs of the University and to provide appropriate development opportunities. Members of staff are expected to participate fully in discussions about changing requirements and it is the University's aim to reach agreement to reasonable change. If agreement is not possible, it reserves the right to require changes to the job description after consultation with the individual concerned.
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