E4 Doctoral Training Partnership

Tancrede Leger

Reconstructing the late-Quaternary glacial history of north-eastern Patagonia (43°S, 71°W): new insights from geomorphology, geochronology and numerical glacier modelling

This PhD was hosted in the School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, in partnership with the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC).

My PhD was vital in deciding that I wanted to pursue an academic career and pushed me towards applying for future jobs in academia.

What was your research about?

Tancrede during fieldwork in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
Tancrede during fieldwork in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia

To the east of the Patagonians Andes, the Argentinian foreland contains one of the most complete and well-preserved sequence of Quaternary glacial deposits in the world (Clapperton, 1993). This unique geomorphic record provides the opportunity to reconstruct and date volume fluctuations of the formerly 2500 km-long Patagonian Ice Sheet over several Quaternary glacial cycles (Mercer, 1976). The ice sheet moreover occupied a key mid-latitude position in the ocean-dominated Southern Hemisphere, as it was the only ice mass to fully intersect the precipitation-bearing southern westerly wind belt. Reconstructing its former expansions can thus provide rare insight into how southern mid-latitude climates evolved during the Quaternary.

The main objective of my PhD was to develop a robust geomorphological and geochronological reconstruction of the former Patagonian Ice Sheet behaviour over several Quaternary glacial cycles, in its understudied north-eastern sector (43° S).

What made you apply to the E3 DTP?

The PhD research project, which I was very interested in.

What did you find challenging in your PhD?

The PhD was exactly as I expected it. I found the administrative support of the E3DTP highly helpful and skilled. The main unexpected challenge for me has been to continue to work in isolation during the COVID 19 pandemic, however there is little that the DTP could have done to arrange this unique situation. Another unexpected challenge was the lack of funding within those PhD projects that include remote fieldwork and lab analyses, which meant that any extra cost of this nature had to be covered by obtaining extra student research grants. A large amount of time during the PhD was therefore used to apply to numerous grants in order to obtain the funds necessary to conduct the research initially outlined by the PhD project.

Looking back, what would you have done differently?

To be 100% honest, my PhD went as smoothly as I had wished, if not for the pandemic and all the challenges associated with it. In relation to my work during this period, I would not change anything if I were to do it again.

Which aspects of your PhD did you enjoy the most?

Fieldwork, teaching, conferences, meeting new colleagues at various labs, the opportunity to conduct a PIP internship and conduct a research visit abroad.

PhD Highlights

  • I conducted two distinct field expeditions to Patagonia in my first and second years

  • I published 4 scientific articles from my PhD research

  • I went to 10 conferences in different countries of Europe

  • I successfully obtained a few grants such as the NERC CIAF (2x), SAGES SSGS, QRA NRWA, BSG PRG.

Which skills did you gain during your PhD?

I gained many skills such as:

  • Fieldwork skillsorganising field expeditions, sampling rock surfaces and sediment exposures, studying glaciogenic, glaciofluvial and glaciolacustrine sediments, identifying and mapping surface geomorphology, working in Patagonia, the Peruvian Andes, the French Alps, the Scottish Highlands and the Cairngorms
  • Laboratory work skills: conducting sample preparation and processing, specific experience with Quartz isolation and purification and wet chemistry
  • Computer programming skills: Matlab©Python, ArcGIS, QGIS and ArcScene, graphic software for publication-quality figure, graph and map editing/production in Inkscape and Adobe Illustrator CC and Mendeley and Latex for literature processing and writing of publication-quality document
  • Scientific writing skills: writing scientific-style essays, laboratory reports, scientific articles, research grant proposals; handling large amounts of scientific literature and data; scientific publication reviewing.
  • Teaching skills: teaching undergraduate courses at the University of Edinburgh, school of GeoSciences as Lab Demonstrator, Field Demonstrator, Tutor and essay marker 

What would not have been possible without the DTP?

  • The PIP (professional internship) at the Universite of Grenoble in France
  • An overseas research visit to write my PhD thesis
  • Some training opportunities such as training specific to pursuing an academic career

How has your PhD helped you to decide on a career path?

My PhD was vital in deciding that I wanted to pursue an academic career and pushed me towards applying for future jobs in academia, such as the Postdoc that I am currently employed under.

And now?

I have started as Post-doctorate Research Associate within the PALGLAC ERC project at the University of Sheffield.