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Department of Geography



Professor Neil Arnold M.A., Ph.D.

Professor of Glaciology, Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute, and
Fellow of St John's College.

Physical geographer, with interests within the broad field of environmental modelling, particularly the interactions between ice masses, climate and glacier hydrology.



  • 2021-present: Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute
  • 1996-present: Department of Geography, University of Cambridge involving shared duties between the Geography Department and the SPRI.
  • 1995-1996: Department of Geophysics and Astronomy, University of British Columbia.
  • 1993-1995: Research Associate on a NERC project on physically-based modelling of glacier hydrology


  • BA in Geography, University of Cambridge.
  • PhD from University of Cambridge.


My research interests focus, in the broadest sense, on glacier hydrology. These interests range from small-scale energy balance variations over valley glaciers, and the routing of the resulting meltwater over the glacier surface and into the subglacial drainage system, to the large-scale variability of ice sheets during the late Quaternary. Glacier hydrology (the range of systems which carry water within and at the bed of ice sheets and glaciers) is one of the fundamental controls on the velocity of ice masses, and hence their possible responses to climate change. The main technique I employ in these investigations is the development of numerical models of the processes involved. These models use airborne- and satellite-derived remotely sensed data, and data obtained from field work, as input data to drive the models, to provide boundary conditions for the models, and for model calibration and evaluation. Most recently, this work has involved a particular focus on the occurrence and behaviour of supra glacial lakes on Greenland, and on Antarctic Ice Shelves, and I have also begun to work on the possible occurrence of subglacial water on Mars in the recent past, and potentially, at the present day,

Current research

Supraglacial hydrology of Antarctic Ice Shelves

This research, in collaboration with Dr Ian Willis, Dr Alison Banwell at the University of Colorado and a European Space Agency Research Fellow, Rebecca Dell, is focused on novel methods to first detect, and then measure the area and volume of meltwater, in the form of supraglacial lakes and slush fields on Antarctic Ice Shelves. This research looks at how water occurrence has changed over recent years, and how water may be transferred across ice shelf surfaces in summer. Surface meltwater affects the surface mass balance of ice shelves as it increase the absorption of solar energy, and may also be implicated in rapid, catastrophic breakup of ice shelves. As well as improving the detection of supraglacial water, this research also aims to better understand the local and synoptic climatic controls on meltwater occurrence and how it varies temporally and spatially.

Water flow beneath palaeoglaciers and ice sheets and its impact on the sedimentary record

This research, in collaboration with Prof. Julian Dowdeswell and Dr Kelly Hogan of the British Antarctic Survey involves the use of numerical models to investigate possible water flow paths and discharge beneath the margins of the expanded late Quaternary ice sheet in Antarctica, and other palaeo-ice sheets, in order to better understand the impact of water flow on the sedimentary and erosive landscapes left by such ice sheets, particularly those in marine environments.

The Geomorphology of glacial landscapes on Mars

I am currently also involved in ongoing research focusing on the geomorphology of glacial landscapes on Mars, with a particular concern on the possibility of wet-based glaciation during periods of Mars' past geological history. This research in collaboration with Dr Frances Butcher at the University of Sheffield, Dr Matt Balme of the Open University, Dr Colman Gallagher at University College Dublin and Dr Susan Conway at the University of Nantes involves a combination of geomorphic mapping using high spatial resolution data from several of the current Mars orbiters, and the development of boundary conditions for, and use of, numerical ice sheet models for Martian glaciers.


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External activities

  • Member of the Natural Environment Research Council Peer Review College