Research

My primary research interests are: 1) the pathways and transit times of glacial meltwater, and their relationship to the dynamics and stability of glaciers and ice sheets; and 2) the impact of retreating glaciers on downstream water quality and availability. I have experience in field-based glaciological research in Greenland, Arctic Scandinavia, Iceland, and the European Alps, and have contributed to improved implementation of glacial hydrology within glacier and ice sheet models. My current research is focussed on water resources in glacier-fed catchments, including the transport of anthropogenic pollutants through the glacial hydrological system. This work is supported by active research grants from NERC (Newton Fund) and the Royal Geographical Society, and applies an interdisciplinary approach to assess the impacts of changing meltwater availability on water security and environmental quality downstream of glaciated catchments under changing patterns of climate and land use.

 

Ongoing research projects

Integrated upstream and downstream thinking to mitigate the water security challenges of Peruvian glacier retreat (SIGMA:Peru)

Main collaborators: Will Blake, Sally Rangecroft, Jess Kitch (University of Plymouth), Nick Selmes, Stefan Simis (Plymouth Marine Laboratory), and Sergio Morera (Geophysical Institute of Peru)

A growing population, combined with changes to water availability and quantity due to climate change, is increasing the pressure on dwindling water supplies in the Peruvian Andes. Glaciers provide a critical water supply to millions living in South America, acting as buffers to Andean water supplies as they contribute by slowly releasing water through melt which contributes to drinking water, agriculture, hydroelectricity and industry. Containing over 70% of the world’s tropical ice glaciers, Peru is at the heart of this water security concern as glaciers in the region are rapidly retreating. Our project seeks to evaluate the past, present and future problems associated with glacial retreat in Peru, with regards to water quantity and quality, and study the impacts on basin-wide water, food and energy security. Working collaboratively alongside both UK and Peruvian researchers, and between natural and social sciences, the project aims to develop strategies to improve water security in the region for local people, industry and agriculture.

 

Fallout radionuclides on glaciers: an emerging issue for water quality

Main collaborators: Will Blake, Kim Ward (University of Plymouth), Giovanni Baccolo (University Milano-Bicocca), Edyta Lokas (Institute of Nuclear Physics PAS), Phil Owens (UNBC), and Nick Selmes (Plymouth Marine Laboratory)

Fallout radionuclides (FRNs) and other anthropogenic contaminants are transported in the atmosphere and subsequently deposited on and stored within glaciers. In response to changes in climate and associated glacier retreat, these contaminants can be released from glaciers into downstream catchments decades after the original source of contamination was active. Furthermore, interaction with an ice surface material called ‘cryoconite’ can lead to accumulation of contaminants, resulting in enhanced and potentially harmful concentrations. Very little research has been conducted to date on FRNs in glacier catchments; our work aims to fill geographical gaps in knowledge of FRNs in the global cryosphere and collaborate with the wider research community to assess potential impact on the downstream environment and the populations reliant upon glacier-fed waters for drinking water, grazing and irrigation. I have conducted field campaigns in Sweden and Iceland in support of this research, with cryoconite and sediment samples collected in these locations analysed for the presence of radioactive materials and heavy metals at the University of Plymouth Consolidated Radio-isotope Facility (CoRIF).

A new international network of researchers in the fields of glaciology, environmental radioactivity and biogeochemistry has recently been developed, with an aim to build a spatial database for FRNs in glacial environments globally and better understand the physical processes resulting in accumulation of FRNs on glaciers. If you would like to contribute to this project then please contact me.

 

The hydrology and dynamics of the Fennoscandian Ice Sheet

Main collaborators: Sarah Greenwood, Per Holmlund, Martin Jakobsson (Stockholm University) and Johan Nyberg (Geological Survey of Sweden)

This research is focussed on developing an improved understanding of the retreat and dynamics of the Fennoscandian Ice Sheet during the Late Weichselian. I have a specific interest in the Baltic and Bothnian sea areas, and a combined modelling/geomorphology approach has been applied to help better constrain past ice stream activity in this region, including investigating the controls on grounding line stability and flow dynamics, and the role of atmospheric warming and meltwater production in driving ice retreat. Mapping of high-resolution bathymetric data provides an incredibly well-preserved insight into the subglacial environment in this area, from which we hope to better understand contemporary glacial processes in other regions. This work thus contributes to improving our understanding of both present day and palaeo ice sheets, and provides a unique perspective on marine-terminating ice streams and possibilities for rapid retreat.

 

Hydrocarbon pollution on Rabots Glacier, Kebnekaise, Northern Sweden

Main collaborators: Gunhild Rosqvist and Jerker Jarsjö (Stockholm University)

In March 2012 a Royal Norwegian Air Force Hercules plane crashed just below the summit of Kebnekaise, Sweden’s highest mountain, depositing much of the wreckage and fuel onto Rabots Glacier. Through an ongoing monitoring programme we are investigating the transit pathways and likely lifetime of hydrocarbons within the glacier catchment. This includes how the pollutants behave in the snowpack, the use of dye tracers to investigate the transport pathways for pollution from the source zone to downstream, and detection of pollution in the proglacial environment where it enters a river catchment used for drinking water by both animals and humans.

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