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

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

University Senior Lecturer

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



  • 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.

Current Research

Supra- and subglacial hydrology of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

This project, in collaboration with Dr Ian Willis and Dr Alison Banwell, and PhD students Conrad Kozoil and Andrew Williamson involves investigating the impacts of glacier hydrology on the dynamics of the Greenland Ice Sheet using both numerical models and remotely sensed imagery. One strand of this work is focused on developing a suite of coupled numerical models for the surface, englacial and subglacial hydrology of the Greenland Ice Sheet, with particular emphasis on the filling and draining of supra-glacial lakes, and the impact of such drainage events on the subglacial hydrology and ice sheet dynamics. The second strand concerns the development of algorithms to track the filling and draining of supraglacial lakes over large areas of the ice sheet using a combination of satellite data, including NASA's Landsat and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS) imagery.

The impact of supraglacial lakes on energy balance and mass balance of Himalayan Glaciers

This work, in collaboration with Dr Ian Willis and a recently graduated PhD student, Evan Miles, involves the use of numerical modeling and remote sensing to investigate the behaviour and possible impact of supraglacial lakes on glaciers in the Himalaya. Such lakes are widespread, but their impact on the glaciers is still the subject of much uncertainty. Glacial lakes can also be prone to rapid and catastrophic drainage, which can pose a severe hazard for communities living lower down the valleys, and a better understanding of their behaviour can lead to improved hazard planning and mitigation.

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 acting as an external co-supervisor on a project based at the Open University (PI Dr Matt Balme, PhD student Frances Butcher) investigating 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 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.

The development of automated algorithms to identify glacial landforms in high resolution remotely-sensed data

Geomorphic mapping of glaciated landscapes has been a very valuable tool in developing our understanding of the dynamics of ice sheets and glaciers, and their response to past climate change, but has traditionally been a manual and labour-intensive process. The rapidly increasing availability of very high resolution data from a variety of remote-sensing platforms allows the possibility of producing such maps over wide areas, and this project has developed computer algorithms which can identify and classify landforms in glaciated landscapes from such imagery. This research has largely been based in Iceland, in collaboration with Dr Ian Willis, and a PhD student, Ciaran Robb, as well as Icelandic colleagues.


  • Mayaud, J. R., A. F. Banwell, N. S. Arnold, and I. C. Willis 2014, Modeling the response of subglacial drainage at Paakitsoq, west Greenland, to 21st century climate change, J. Geophys. Res. Earth Surf., 119, 2619–2634, doi:10.1002/2014JF003271.
  • Arnold, N.S., Banwell, A.F. and Willis, I.C. 2014. High-resolution modelling of the seasonal evolution of surface water storage on the Greenland Ice Sheet. The Cryosphere, 8, 1149–1160, 2014 doi:10.5194/tc-8-1149-2014
  • Banwell, A. F., Cabellero, M., Arnold, N., Glasser, N., Cathles, L. M., MacAyeal, D., 2014. Supraglacial lakes on the Larsen B Ice Shelf, Antarctica, and Paakitsoq Region, Greenland: a comparative study. Annals of Glaciology. 53(66), doi:10.3189/2014AoG66A049.
  • Tedesco, M., Willis, I., Hoffman, M., Banwell, A. F., Alexander, P. and Arnold, N. 2013. Ice dynamic response to two modes of surface lake drainage on the Greenland Ice Sheet. Environ. Res. Lett. 8 034007 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/034007
  • Banwell, A. F., Willis, I., and Arnold, N. 2013. Modeling subglacial water routing at Paakitsoq, W Greenland. Journal of Geophysical Research - Earth Surface. 118, doi:10.1002/jgrf.20093
  • Pope, A., Willis, I.C., Rees, W.G., Arnold, N.S. and Palsson, F. 2013. Combining airborne lidar and Landsat ETM plus data with photoclinometry to produce a digital elevation model for Langjokull, Iceland. International Journal of Remote Sensing 34, 1005-1025.
  • Banwell, A.F., Arnold, N.S., Willis, I.C. Tedesco, M. and Ahstrom, A. 2012b. Modeling supraglacial water routing and lake filling on the Greenland Ice Sheet. Journal of Geophysical Research (Earth Surface). 117, F04012, doi:10.1029/2012JF002393.
  • Banwell, A.F., Willis, I.C., Arnold, N.S., Messerli, A., Rye, C.J., Tedesco, M. and Ahlstrom, A. 2012a. Calibration and evaluation of a high-resolution surface mass-balance model for Paakitsoq, West Greenland. Journal of Glaciology 58, 1047-1062
  • Rye, C. Willis, I.C., Arnold, N.S., and Kohler, J. 2012. On the need for automated multiobjective optimization and uncertainty estimation of glacier mass balance models. Journal of Geophysical Research (Earth Surface). 117, F02005 doi:10.1029/2011JF002184.
  • Tedstone, AJ and Arnold, N.S. 2012. Automated remote sensing of sediment plumes for identification of runoff from the Greenland ice sheet. Journal of Glaciology 58, 699-712.
  • Arnold, N. 2010. A new approach for dealing with depressions in Digital Elevation Models when calculating flow accumulation values. Progress in Physical Geography. 34(6), 781-809. doi:10.1177/0309133310384542
  • Rye, C. J., N. S. Arnold, I. Willis, and J. Kohler. 2010, Modelling the surface mass balance of a High Arctic glacier using the ERA-40 Reanalysis, Journal of Geophysical Research (Earth Surface). doi:10.1029/2009JF001364.
  • Arnold, N.S. and Rees, W.G. 2009. Effects of Digital Elevation Model spatial resolution on distributed calculations of solar radiation in a high arctic glacierised catchment. Journal of Glaciology. 55(194), 973-984
  • Peters, N., Willis, I.J and Arnold, N.S. 2009. Numerical analysis of rapid water transfer beneath Antarctica. Journal of Glaciology. 55(192), 650-750
  • Fox, A.M., Willis, I.C. and Arnold, N.S. 2008. Modification and testing of a one-dimensional energy and mass balance model for supraglacial snow packs. Hydrological Processes. 22(16), 3194-3209
  • Rees, W.G. and Arnold, N.S. 2007. Mass balance and dynamics of a valley glacier measured by high-resolution LiDAR. Polar Record 43(227), 311-319.
  • Arnold, N.S., Rees, W.G., Hodson, A.J. and Kohler, J. 2006 Topographic controls on the energy balance of a high Arctic glacier. Journal of Geophysical Research. 111 F02011, doi:10.1029/2005JF000426 (15 pp).
  • Rees, W.G. and Arnold, N.S. 2006 Scale-dependent roughness of a glacier surface: implications for radar backscatter and aerodynamic roughness modelling. Journal of Glaciology. 52, 177, 214-222.
  • Arnold, N.S., Rees, W.G., Devereaux, B.J. and Amable, G. 2006. Evaluating the potential of high-resolution airborne LiDAR in glaciology. International Journal of Remote Sensing 27 (5-6), 1233-1251.
  • Arnold, N. 2005. Investigating the sensitivity of glacier mass balance/elevation profiles to changing meteorological conditions: model experiments for Haut Glacier d'Arolla, Valais, Switzerland. Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine Research, 37(2), 139-145.
  • Rippin, D.M., Willis, I.C. and Arnold, N.S. 2005 Seasonal patterns of velocity and strain across the tongue of the polythermal glacier Midre Lovénbreen, Svalbard. Annals of Glaciology 42, 445-453
  • Rippin, D.M., Willis, I.C. Arnold, N.S., Hodson, A.J, and Brinkhaus, M. 2005. Spatial and temporal variations in surface velocity and basal drag across the tongue of the polythermal Midre Lovenbreen, Svalbard. Journal of Glaciology 51(175), 588-600.
  • Arnold, N. and Rees, W.G. 2003. Self-similarity in glacier surface characteristics. Journal of Glaciology 49(147), 547-554.
  • Rippin, D.M., Willis, I.C. Arnold, N.S., Hodson, A.J., Moore, J., Kohler, J. and Bjornsson, H. 2003. Changes in geometry and subglacial drainage of Midre Lovenbreen, Svalbard, determined from digital elevation models. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 28(3), 273-298
  • Arnold, N.S., Van Andel, Tj. H. And Valen, V. 2002. Extent, and dynamics of the Scandinavian Ice Sheet during Oxygen Isotope Stage 3 (65000 - 25000 yrs BP). Quaternary Research 57 38-48.
  • Arnold, N.S. and Sharp, M.J. 2002. Flow variability in the Scandinavian Ice Sheet: modelling the coupling between ice sheet flow and hydrology. Quaternary Science Reviews 21 485-502.
  • Willis, I., Arnold, N. and Brock, B. 2002. Modelling energy balance, melt and runoff in a small supraglacial catchment. Hydrological Processes 16(14) 2721-2749
  • Brock, B.W., Willis, I.C. Sharp, M.J. and Arnold, N.S. 2000. Modelling seasonal and spatial variations in the surface energy balance of Haut Glacier d'Arolla, Switzerland. Annals of Glaciology, 31, 53-62.
  • Brock, B.W., and N.S. Arnold. 2000. A spreadsheet-based (Microsoft Excel) point surface energy balance model for glacier and snow melt studies. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 25: 649-658.
  • Arnold, N., Lambeck, K and Van Andel, Tj. (1999) 'Topographic, ice sheet and sea level boundary conditions for the Stage 3 project climate modelling experiments.' Proceedings of the XVth INQUA Conference, Durban, South Africa, August 1999. Abstract.
  • Arnold, N. and Jones, H. 1999. Modelling the entrainment and transport of suspended sediment in subglacial hydrological systems. Glacial Geology and Geomorphology.
  • Arnold, N., Richards, K.S., Willis, .C. and Sharp, M.J. 1998. Initial results from a physically-based, distributed model of glacier hydrology. Hydrological Processes 12, 191-219.
  • (Also Ch. 17 In Sharp, M.J., Richards, M. and Tranter, M. (eds) Glacier Hydrology and Hydrochemistry, John Wiley and Sons, pp 299-329)
  • Willis, I.C., Arnold, N., Bonvin, J.-M., Sharp, M.J. and Hubbard, B.P. 1997. Mass balance, energy balance and flow variations of Haut Glacier d'Arolla, Switzerland, calculated using Digital Terrain Modelling techniques. In Lane, S.N., Chandler, J.H. and Richards, K.S (eds) Landform Monitoring, Modelling and Analysis. Wiley.
  • Arnold, N, Willis, I.C. Sharp, M.J., Richards, K.S. and Lawson, W.J. 1996. A distributed surface energy balance model for a small valley glacier: I. Development and testing for Haut Glacier d'Arolla, Valais, Switzerland. Journal of Glaciology 42, 77-89.
  • Richards, K.S., Sharp, M.J., Arnold, N., Gurnell, A., Clark, M., Tranter, M. Nienow, P., Brown, G.H., Willis, I.C. and Lawson, W.J. 1996. An integrated approach to modelling hydrology and water quality in glacierised catchments. Hydrological Processes 10, 479-508.
  • Sharp, M.J., Richards, K.S., Willis, I.C., Arnold, N.S., Nienow, P.W. Lawson, W.J. and Tison, J.-L. 1993. Geometry, bed topography and drainage system structure of Haut Glacier d'Arolla, Switzerland. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 18, 557-571.
  • Richards, K.S, Arnold, N., Chandler, J.H., Chandra, S., Lane, S.N and Mattikalli, N. 1995. Numerical landscapes: 'static' and 'dynamic' form-process relationships. Zeitschrift fur Geomorphology Supplement-band 101, 201-220.
  • French, J.R., Spencer, T., Murray, A.L. and Arnold, N.S. 1993. Geostatistical analysis of sediment deposition in a small tidal wetland, Norfolk, U.K. Journal of Coastal Research Special Edition: Proceedings of the International Geographical Union Commission on Coastal Systems, Louisiana, April 1993. 11, 308-321.
  • Arnold, N. and Sharp, M. 1992. The influence of glacier hydrology on the dynamics of a large Quaternary ice sheet. Journal of Quaternary Science 7, 109-124.

External activities

  • Member of International Glaciological Society.
  • Member of the Natural Environment Research Council Peer Review College