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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. 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.

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 NERC funded PhD student, Rebecca Dell, is focused on novel methods to first detect, and then measure the area and volume of supraglacial lakes on Antarctic Ice Shelves. This research looks at how this lake occurrence has changed over recent years, and how water may be transferred across ice shelf surfaces in summer. Such lakes affect the surface mass balance of ice shelves as they increase the absorption of solar energy, and may also be implicated in rapid, catastrophic breakup of ice shelves.

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

This work, in collaboration with Dr Ian Willis and a group led by Dr Francesca Pellicciott at the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, 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 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.

Supra- and subglacial hydrology of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

This project, in collaboration with Dr Ian Willis and Dr Alison Banwell, and former 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.


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External activities

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