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Department of Geography

 

 

Glaciology and Climate Change

Research into glaciers and ice sheets is based at the Scott Polar Research Institute, where staff use observational data, laboratory experiments and numerical models to understand the dimensions and flow of ice masses, and to assess the impact of climate change. Current research focuses on fast-flowing glaciers and ice streams, hydrological processes and pathways within ice sheets, mass- and energy-balance, and sedimentary records from glacier-influenced marine environments.

Research projects

Research projects currently being undertaken on this theme include:

Surface and Basal Hydrology of the Greenland Ice Sheet

Surface and Basal Hydrology of the Greenland Ice Sheet

This project investigates the behaviour of surface lakes that form each summer on the Greenland Ice Sheet, the delivery of surface water to the bed, and the effects this has on basal water pressures and ice sheet velocities.

Antarctic ice-shelf hydrology, instability and break-up

Antarctic ice-shelf hydrology, instability and break-up

This project is ultimately trying to answer the questions: Why did the Larsen B Ice Shelf catastrophically break up in 2002? And might other ice shelves meet the same fate? It involves a combination of numerical modelling supported by recent field measurements in Antarctica to investigate the role that surface melt water ponding may play in ice shelf flexure and fracture.

Meteorology, debris cover and hydrology of Himalayan glaciers

Meteorology, debris cover and hydrology of Himalayan glaciers

This project is concerned with obtaining a better understanding of how the steep, complex topography of the Himalaya affects small scale weather patterns, how this influences the distribution of snowfall and energy receipt across the glaciers of the region, and how this, together with the characteristics of glacier surface debris layers, controls patterns of water ponding and glacier shrinkage.

Surface characteristics and mass balance of Icelandic ice caps

Surface characteristics and mass balance of Icelandic ice caps

As in many regions of the globe, the glaciers and ice caps of Iceland are disappearing at an accelerating rate. This project has been using a combination of ground, airborne, and satellite data together with numerical modelling to investigate the patterns of surface reflectivity, mass balance and dynamics across Iceland’s second largest ice cap, Langjökull.

Mass balance of Svalbard glaciers

Mass balance of Svalbard glaciers

We have developed and used a moderately complex glacier mass balance model, driven by past climate model data, and calibrated against available mass balance measurements, to compute the patterns of winter, summer and annual mass balance across all the glaciers of North West Spitsbergen since 1958. Ongoing work involves simplifying the model and driving it with future modelled climate scenarios to computer the changing mass of the glaciers throughout the 21st century.

Semi-automated mapping of glacial landforms

Semi-automated mapping of glacial landforms

Landforms left behind by retreating glaciers and ice sheets are indicative of former basal conditions and ice flow. Traditional methods of mapping landforms from aerial or satellite data typically rely on manual digitising methods. We have been developing tools that can be used to map such landforms semi-automatically, providing a quicker, less subjective, and more consistent approach to landform mapping.

NERC Ice-sheet stability programme (iSTAR)

NERC Ice-sheet stability programme (iSTAR)

Pine Island Glacier is one of five glaciers in West Antarctica that are currently contributing sea-level rise at a significant and accelerating rate. The aim of NERC’s ice sheet stability programme (iSTAR) is to understand the cause of sea level rise stemming from the rapid transfer of ice from ice-sheet to ocean.

Subglacial Access and Fast Ice Research Experiment (SAFIRE)

Subglacial Access and Fast Ice Research Experiment (SAFIRE)

Outlet glaciers of the Greenland Ice Sheet cause significant sea level rise because they flow fast and are sensitive to climate change. The processes and mechanisms that govern fast flow are, however, not well understood. This project aims to resolve the control on the fast glacier motion by drilling to the bed of Store Gletscher in West Greenland.

CryoSat-2

CryoSat-2

The Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge University is part of an international team of scientists coordinated by the European Space Agency, the Cryosat Calibration, Validation and Retrieval Team (CVRT). Since 2004 SPRI scientists have participated in field campaigns in Greenland and Svalbard, collecting data on the spatial variation of snow density and densification processes.

Earlier projects