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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:

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.

Supra- and subglacial hydrology of the Greenland Ice Sheet

Supra- and subglacial hydrology of the Greenland Ice Sheet

The Greenland Ice Sheet is losing mass at an increasing rate, and seems likely to continue to do so. This mass loss is caused both by increased melt due to warmer temperatures, and acceleration of ice flow in large areas of the ice sheet. The presence of supraglacial lakes on the ice sheet is linked to both processes; lakes allow the ice sheet to absorb more solar energy, increasing melt, and they have also been observed to drain catastrophically to the bed of the ice sheet, where the water lubricates the bed and allows faster sliding. This project aims to develop a numerical model for the formation of lakes on the ice sheet surface, their likelihood of draining to the bed, and to link this model to models of subglacial hydrology and ice sheet dynamics in order to investigate the possible impacts of such events on ice sheet movement.

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.

Geometry and Mass Balance Changes of Langjökull, Iceland

Geometry and Mass Balance Changes of Langjökull, Iceland

Currently, about 11% (11 200km²) of Iceland is covered by ice; most contained within extensive plateau ice caps ranging in size from Hofsjökull i Loni (8km²) to Vatnajökull (8175km²). The maritime climate means these ice caps receive up to ~4 m w.e. a⁻¹ of snowfall in their accumulation zones and lose up to ~10m w.e. a⁻¹ of ice in their ablation areas. This, together with the fact they are temperate, means they are dynamically responsive to small climatically induced mass balance changes.

Earlier projects