PhD student awarded Piers Sellers Prize for polar science research

Tom Slater, a PhD student in the School of Earth and Environment, is one of two recipients of this year’s Piers Sellers prize.

The award, given in the name of astronaut and climate scientist Piers Sellers, was presented to Tom Slater for exceptional PhD research by a University of Leeds student. A final year PhD student, Tom is working in the NERC-Funded Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling in the School of Earth and Environment.

Tom’s work involves using satellites to measure the height of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets and how they change over time, as well as their respective contributions to global sea level rise. He was nominated for the award by his supervisor, Professor Andy Shepherd, who commended him on developing new methods for processing satellite altimeter observations of the polar ice sheets.

“Tom’s PhD has led to significant methodological advances, extending the value of satellite altimeter data for polar science.

“In addition to his ground-breaking technical work, Tom has also applied his knowledge to address important scientific problems. He has published 3 first author articles during the first two years of his PhD, including one in Nature Climate Change, and he has also co-authored two others including one in Nature and one in Nature Geosciences. He also has two further first author articles and one co-author article in preparation. This is an outstanding body of technical and applied work.”

Professor Shepherd also praised his student for his work tracking Antarctic ice losses: “Tom showed they were tracking the upper range of sea level projections [from the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment]… If Antarctic ice losses continue to follow this trend, the ice sheet will be responsible for an additional 10 cm of sea level rise by 2100. This is a major revision and has significant implications for coastal communities and climate policy.”

The Piers Sellers prize was also awarded to Professor Petra Tschakert, from the University of Western Australia, for a world leading contribution to solution focused climate research.

Professor Tschakert conducts research at the intersection of political ecology, climate change adaptation, environmental justice, and livelihood security. Her work is rooted in participatory approaches and she has pioneered a number of methods in her work including community mapping, diagramming, environmental theatre, and participatory video.

More recently she has pioneered thinking around the science of loss, promoting the importance of cultural values in understanding loss from climate impacts. (See Petra talking about her research in this video.)

Professor Tschakert was a coordinating lead author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Global Warming of  1.5°C, published in October 2018, and a coordinating lead author on the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (for Working Group II, on Livelihoods and Poverty), published in 2014. She was a lead author on the summary for policy makers for both assessments.

The awards will be presented at ‘double bill’ ceremony on 24th June which will also see the formal opening of the Priestley Building, home of the Priestley International Centre for Climate, by the University’s Chancellor Professor Dame Jane Francis.