Dr Emma C. Smith

Dr Emma C. Smith


Geophysical surveys are a great tool for investigating the structure and properties of glaciers and ice sheets, and the subglacial enviroment. At a time of rapid climate change, understanding the factors affecting how large bodies of ice move from the land into the oceans is key to predicting the future of our planet. I have undertaken geophysical surveys in both the Arctic and the Antarctic; using radar, passive microseismic and active-source seismic techniques to answer key questions surround ice dynamics.  My position at the University of Leeds is part of the ITGC TIME project, conducting research on Thwaites Glacier, one of the fastest changing areas of Antarctica. My focus is on acquiring and analysing 3-D seismic data across the eastern shear margin of Thwaites Glacier, in order to better understand what it is that allows this margin between fast and slow flowing ice to exist in this area and how it may change with changing environmental conditions.

Prior to joining the University of Leeds, I was a postdoctoral researcher in Geophysics and Glaciology at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Bremerhaven, Germany. I worked on a number of projects using seismic vibroseis data on ice, both on the Ekstroem Ice Shelf in Antarctica (Sub-EIS-Obs) and Kongsvegen in Svalbard (KongElViS / VIKING Project). I also worked as as the on-site coordinator for a hot-water drilling campaign to drill through the Ekstroem Ice Shelf and collect sediment cores of the sea floor beneath the ice shelf.

I completed my PhD at the University of Cambridge and British Antarctic Survey, working with passive microseismic data from Antarctica to explore the dynamics and physical properties of Rutford Ice Stream. Prior to this I spent a year and a half working as a seismic processing geophysicist for ION – GX Technology, having completed an MSc in Exploration Geophysics at the University of Leeds in 2009. My background is in Electronic Engineering giving me a solid grounding in mathematics, computing and signal processing. I have found my cross-disciplinary background advantageous, giving me an analytical approach to areas such as data processing, analysis and modelling.

As well as purely scientific activities, I am passionate about science communication and outreach. Between 2017-2019 I was the Early Career Scientist Representative for the EGU Cryosphere Division. I was also the Co-Chief-Editor of the award winning EGU Cryosphere Blog between 2015 and 2017.


  • ITGC TIME Project - Seismic Surveys

Research interests

  • Ice geophysics: particularly the use of active and passive seismics and radio echo sounding in glacial environments.
  • Ice stream dynamics: in particular, the basal dynamics that accommodate ice stream flow and how these are related to sub-glacial sediment characteristics and properties.
  • Ice fabric properties: the formation of ice crystal fabrics under different dress regimes and how these can be investigated using passive seismics, active seismics and radar.

Research Projects:

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://environment.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD Geophysics and Glaciology, University of Cambridge
  • MSc Exploration Geophysics, University of Leeds
  • MEng Electronic Engineering with Music Technology Systems, University of York

Professional memberships

  • EGU (European Geosciences Union)
  • AGU (American Geophysical Union)

Research groups and institutes

  • Applied Geophysics
  • Institute of Applied Geoscience
<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>