Sub-debris melt model intercomparison

I’m doing the modelling for my part of the sub-debris melt model intercomparison task of the IACS Working Group on Debris Covered Glaciers. I just wanted to give a shout out to all the participants who have controbuted data to the study, and especially to Adria Bach who works at WSL in Francesca Pelliciottis research group, as she heroically checked and compiled all the data for public sharing for the modelling effort. Thanks to you all. The model intercomparison data (restricted to experiment participants for now) and documents are online here. If you are interested in participating – even at this late data – with a new melt model then do let us know.

Adria also produced this figure that shows the range of environments we are capturing in our model intercomparison.

Its pretty good really I think – we should be able to see how the models we are comparing perform in a range of environments in which debris covered glacirs are found now! Pertty cool – I’m looking forward to seeing and comparing all the first model results at the IUGG in Montreal next month!

Also looks like the locals are right to call Suldenferner little Siberia – its markedly colder than the very similarly located Arolla glacier.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Sub-debris melt model intercomparison

Class infographics on components of the cryosphere

In our class this semester we did an exercise where groups of students created an infographic summarizing what are the known observations of various components of the cryosphere. The data was all taken from the IPCC AR5, which is getting somewhat dated now, but the main messages of the observed change still hold, as do the principles of distilling the information and presenting in a memorable way.

The students did a good job of pulling together graphical summaries and presenting them to the class. Here is the very professional and impressive example from the team looking at Arctic sea ice:

Credit: N Gampierakis, P. Schmitt and C. Winter, 2019.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Class infographics on components of the cryosphere

Mapping supraglacial debris cover

A warming Earth causes the volume of mountain glaciers and their extent to decline globally for decades. At the same time, the cover of many glaciers with debris changes. However, this debris coverage has been rarely recorded so far. A study led by  Dirk Scherler of the German Research Centre for Geosciences GFZ and two colleagues from Switzerland – one of them employed by Google – now shows a possibility to detect the extent of debris on mountain glaciers globally and automatically via satellite monitoring.

Quoting from the GFZ news website: “In their work, the scientists used the cloud computing platform “Google Earth Engine”. This is a web-based development environment and database of satellite imagery from forty years of remote sensing that is freely accessible to researchers. The images for the study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters came from the satellites Landsat-8 and Sentinel-2 and have a spatial resolution of 30 by 30 and 10 by 10 meters respectively per pixel. The scientists compared the images from space with an electronic glacier catalog, the Randolph Glacier Inventory, to determine the debris coverage. For this they have developed an automatic method that makes pixel-by-pixel comparisons across the globe. “Our approach, in principle, allows rapid mapping of changes in debris coverage for any period for which satellite imagery is available,” says Dirk Scherler.”

“According to this, 4.4 percent of the glacier surface in mountains is covered with rubble (the Greenland ice sheet and the Antarctic were not included in the study). The distribution is uneven: Towards the poles, the debris coverage decreases as the landscape here is rather flat. In steep mountain regions, such as the Himalayas, there is more debris on the glaciers. Moreover, the study showed that the coverage ratio is higher for smaller glaciers than for larger ones. With global glaciers shrinking, the percentage of debris coverage is expected to increase, making it more important to monitor debris coverage.”

Here is an overview of the places in the world where surface debris affects the glaciers:

Scherler, D., Wulf, H., Gorelick, N. (2018): Global Assessment of Supraglacial Debris Cover Extents. Geophysical Research Letters, doi: 10.1029 / 2018GL080158.

This data is now provided as an add-on the Randolph Glacier Inventory v6.0 and you can get the dataset from the GFZ. This method and dataset will be pretty useful for including the effects of debris in global glacier models and also for our IACS working group on Debris Covered Glaciers.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Mapping supraglacial debris cover

How do you feel about climate change?

A long while ago (18 September 2016) I wrote a contribution to the ‘Is this how you feel?‘ project which gives a space for scientists to say how they feel about climate change. From their website:

“Climate change is a complex and intimidating threat. You can’t see it when you look out your bedroom window. Its impacts are often not immediately noticeable, nor are the benefits of acting against it.
Luckily there are a large group of passionate individuals who have dedicated their lives to studying climate change. These people write complex research papers, unpacking every aspect of climate change, analysing it thoroughly and clinically.  They understand the numbers, the facts and the figures. They know what is causing it, what the impacts will be and how we can minimise these impacts.

I’m not a famous scientist so my contribution is not featured on the website. Its also much more pessimistic than most of the featured contributions, as I am worried those of us in wealthy and safer places will behave inhumanely to those bearing the brunt of the climate change impacts, and instead of helping, will desperately self-preserve our advantages. I think that will have deep psychological consequences. Anyway, as even my ‘best’ handwriting is illegible, so I transcribed my contribution here:

How do I feel about climate change?

I feel sad, ashamed, fearful, and often frustrated and helpless.

I see current climate change as part of a wider human caused environmental depreciation and it saddens me how we behave towards the natural environment. I’m ashamed about what we are knowingly doing to our planet. Especially when, for me, and I imagine many others, being in the natural environment is one of the greatest sources of solace and joy to be had.

I live in a small home, use green energy, turn off the lights, share my car and prefer my bike over it, eat meat only rarely, avoid packaging if I can, and so on. But my whole lifestyle is still a kind of aberration of the natural systems we evolved in. Am I doing enough? Enough to legitimately ask others to do something too? Probably not.

I’m afraid we will wait too long to make the wholesale changes in attitudes and governance needed to improve our situation. As a result, I fear for the future of people in countries too poor to bring effective adaptation strategies to bear. I also fear that those of us in wealthier countries might not respond with the requisite humanity to help – what would that mean for us?

Its frustrating that we seem to be in possession of all the understanding ad solutions to change our destructive ways and deal with the consequences of them, but there is a collective lack of will to do it. I feel helpless becasue I feel poorly equipped to stir people or our leaders to force change.

But I try, will continue to try, and I hope you will too.

My progress since September 2016 has unfortunately not always been forward:

  • I no longer live in a tiny studio apartment with one other person, but a fairly large flat with one other person
  • I replaced my van with a more fuel efficient car, which I still share
  • I am more stringent with by avoidance of packaging and single use items – this is now much reduced
  • I was and continue to be a pretty minimal consumer – my electronics are all ancient, as are my clothes
  • I still have to look up how to spell aberration
  • I’ve decided I’m definitely not doing enough
  • Unfortunately I’m not sure how to turn that decision into action
  • I successfully minimised my travel for 2 years, but my plans for 2019 look unforgivable even with carbon offsetting
  • Report card: Must try harder

You can add your feelings on climate change by doing this:

1. Handwrite your feelings on climate change
2. Take a photo of it on your phone
3. Tweet your photo to @ITHYF_Letters

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on How do you feel about climate change?

Girls on Ice Austria

A team of us are currently trying to set up an Austrian edition of the Inspiring Girls ExpeditionsGirls on Ice” learning and mentoring program. So whats it all about?

Well, Inspiring Girls Expeditions has a long history of taking small groups of girls into a challenging and inspiring mountain environment with the aim to allow the young women to develop their full potential as scientists, creative thinkers and citizens. The program targets girls who – for a broad range of reasons – might need a boost and an inspirational experience at this point in their lives. We offer guidance for critical thinking, problem solving and facing new challenges alone and as a team. This proves arms the girls with confidence, experience and personal/professional growth opportunities that will last well after the program is over. The girls are led into the natural environment to pursue activities covering scientific, mountain and artistic skills, led by professional female mentors trained in these fields.

Here is our German visual summary of the program …Last year I attended a training program  hosted by the founder of the program and others with profound experience of the program. It was the first time I’d actually participated in a strictly dgener specific program, and it covered, listening, meontoring, lesson, planning, praczticalities, risk assessment and so much more. Dr Emma Smith wrote a blog about it for the EGU which includes a photos of all the participants.

There is lots to organize and lots of fundraising and grant applications to do to gain support for this plan so wish us luck in our endeavour!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Girls on Ice Austria

European Geosciences Union 2019

This coming week I’ll be attend the European Geosciences Union Annual General Meeting. Its the biggest geosciences meeting in Europe. Luckily I can go there easily by train.

This year I’ve contributed to a bunch of presentations and posters through collaborative work on research projects and with my students:

How does the presence of debris-cover on a glacier influence hydro-sedimentary dynamics? A comparison study from two proglacial streams in the Sulden catchment (Eastern Italian Alps)
Michael Engel, Velio Coviello, Andrea Andreoli, Anuschka Buter, Christian Kofler, Vittoria Scorpio, Lindsey Nicholson, Shusuke Miyata, Ricardo Carillo, and Francesco Comiti
Tue, 09 Apr, 14:30–14:45   Room G2 – EGU2019-13295 | Orals | GM8.2/HS9.2.3

Glacier meltwater drainage patterns, discharge and sediment load at the debris covered Suldenferner, Ortler massif, Italy.
Colin Ronald, Lindsey Nicholson, Michael Engel, Catriona Fyffe, Ian Willis, and Francesco Comiti
Tue, 09 Apr, 14:00–15:45   Hall A – EGU2019-12903 | Posters | HS2.1.2/CR3.11

Variational Inequality Free Surface Motion of a Glacier Surface with Mass Balance
Anna Wirbel, Alexander H. Jarosch, and Lindsey Nicholson
Tue, 09 Apr, 16:15–18:00   Hall X4 – EGU2019-13047 | Posters | CR5.1

Mapping the loss of Mt. Kenya’s glaciers: an example of the challenges of satellite monitoring of very small glaciers
Rainer Prinz, Armin Heller, Martin Ladner, Lindsey Nicholson, and Georg Kaser
Thu, 11 Apr, 14:00–15:45 Hall X4 – EGU2019-7273 | Posters | CR2.4/CL2.11

Turbulent structures and heat fluxes over glacier ice and supraglacial debris
Lindsey Nicholson and Ivana Stiperski
Thu, 11 Apr, 16:15–18:00   Hall X4 – EGU2019-12741 | Posters | CR5.2/CL2.12

Atmospheric boundary layer dynamics on an alpine glacier: Effect of katabatic flow variation and local heat advection on turbulent exchange processes
Rebecca Mott, Ivana Stiperski, Lindsey Nicholson, and Jordan Mertes
Fri, 12 Apr, 16:15–16:30   Room N2 – EGU2019-9228 | Orals | CR5.2/CL2.12

Hoping for some interesting discussions of our work and some inspiration from the other science we see at the meeting!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on European Geosciences Union 2019

Turbulence measurements over debris-covered ice

I’m writing up a paper on some eddy covariance measurements I made a few years ago. It took a long time to get to the point of writing this study up, because initially I was a bit disappointed with the dataset as we suffered some instrumental failures that meant our intended 10 day study was reduced to 3 days due to a faulty solar power regulator. I allowed myself to be discouraged by this – which was silly as its still a great dataset!

The motivation for the study goes like this:

  • Turbulence drives atmosphere-surface exchanges of energy, momentum and mass is important for glacier surface ablation (mass loss).
  • Continued climate change is expected to cause increasing (1) importance of turbulent energy exchanges over most mountain glacier environments; (2) debris cover over the remaining mountain glaciers.
  • This is significant because turbulent theory does not apply well to glacier surfaces , which violate most of the required conditions for which turbulent theory was developed.
  • Commonly used ‘bulk’ approaches to treating turbulence have been shown to perform badly on both clean ice (Radic et al., 2018) and debris covered glaciers (Steiner et al., 2018).
  • So, there is a need to better understand some fundamental properties of turbulence over glaciers and in particular to understand the contrast between clean and debris covered ice.

We set us two sets of instruments – one over exposed glacier ice and over the debris covered ice of my main study site, Suldenferner. 

The eddy covariance instruments on the debris covered part of Suldenferner in August 2015.
The eddy covariance instruments on the bare ice part of Suldenferner in August 2015.

The semi-negative findings first:

  • The data we collected shows that single level instrumentation as shown in the photos is a bit limiting, if I had more money and instruments I’d always instal sensors at at least 2 heights above the glacier surface, but we scientists tend to have limited budgets.
  • Krypton hygrometers (measure high speed humidity) really are delicate beasts, they stop working if there is dew, dust, rain, cloud …. which all, ahem, tend to occur on glaciers.
  • Never buy cheap solar panel regulators to use with high end instrumentations – its much more disappointing when an effortful and expensive field campaign goes awry due to failure of simple components.

More interesting findings:

  • The structure of the eddies over the two types of glacier surfaces are similar except for during sunny days when buoyant convection takes off over the debris covered ice.
  • In midsummer conditions over this glacier
    • heat is almost always being delivered from the warm summer atmosphere to the colder glacier surface, except over the debris cover during clear sky daytime conditions when the debris cover surface temperature can exceed the air temperature
    • similarly, deposition of moisture onto the glacier predominates, moisture transfer is essentially only from the glacier to the atmosphere over debris cover during clear sky conditions
  • The glacier katabatic wind dominates the microclimate even though it is a very small glacier, and it gets deeper downglacier over the debris covered ablation zone.
  • The katabatic winds are degraded over the debris covered ablation zone during sunny days, and are also broken up by stronger valley scale circulation.

I’m lucky that I have a great team of scientists around me that support the fieldwork and are expert in boundary layer atmospheric studies – we will continue this work and hopefully gain new insights into turbulent processes and how they affect glaciers.


Radic, V., Menounos, B., Shea, J., Fitzpatrick, N., Tessema, M. A., and Déry, S. J. (2017). Evaluation of different methods to model near-surface turbulent fluxes for a mountain glacier in the Cariboo Mountains, BC, Canada. Cryosphere 11, 2897–2918. doi: 10.5194/tc-11-2897-2017

Steiner JF, Litt M, Stigter EE, Shea J, Bierkens MFP and Immerzeel WW (2018) The Importance of Turbulent Fluxes in the Surface Energy Balance of a Debris-Covered Glacier in the Himalayas. Front. Earth Sci. 6:144. doi: 10.3389/feart.2018.00144

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Turbulence measurements over debris-covered ice

Alpine Glaciology Meeting 2019 report

Last week we were happy to host the 23rd Alpine Glaciology Meeting: 28 February – 01 March 2019, Universität Innsbruck, Austria. 2 days of glaciological talks and poster presentations, plus a change to meet and network with colleagues.

The program can be accessed here, and Magnus Magnusson posted photos of all the talks on the Friends of the International Glaciology Society facebook page. Here are a couple of impressions from his photos:

The gender report:

  • 6/34 oral presentations submitted were from women (17%)
  • 11/33 poster presentations were from women (33%)
  • 3/7 chairs were women (43%)

All contributions to this meeting are accepted, so the gender breakdown of the contributions reflects what was submitted.

The nationality report:

  • Austria (35)
  • Germany (19)
  • Italy (14)
  • Switzerland (9)
  • United Kingdom (8)
  • France (3)
  • USA (2)
  • China (1)
  • Czech Republic (1)
  • Japan (1)
  • Netherlands (1)
  • Norway (1)
  • Sweden (1)

The 24th Alpine Glaciology Meeting will be held in Milan, Italy in 2020 around the same time of the year i.e. the boundary of February/March.

Thanks for coming to Innsbruck and making it a great meeting and see you in Milano next year!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Alpine Glaciology Meeting 2019 report

Greta Thunberg

The most straightforward needed words on climate change are coming from Greta Thunberg. Here are some parts from her speeches at COP24 in 2018 and The World Economic Forum in 2019:

You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake.

You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children.

But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet.

Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed, so that rich people in countries like mine, can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.

Until you start focusing on what needs to be done, rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope.
We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis.

We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground, and we need to focus on equity. And if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, then maybe we should change the system itself.

We are at a time in history where everyone with any insight of the climate crisis that threatens our civilisation – and the entire biosphere – must speak out in clear language, no matter how uncomfortable and unprofitable that may be.

We must change almost everything in our current societies. The bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral duty. The bigger your platform, the bigger your responsibility.

Adults keep saying: “We owe it to the young people to give them hope.” But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.

I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.

In short. We all have to do more in every way we can, both big and small. We need to tackle the threat of climate change with a war style mentality and alongside tackling inequity. There is much to be won from doing so.

She really says exactly what I feel: “Once we take action, hope is everywhere”

I struggle with being an earth scientist just now. I understand the problem but I’m not part of the solution. Political and societal change is what we need, and I’ve no training in that, and don’t know how to make it happen.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Greta Thunberg

MSc literature seminar

This semester for the MSc level literature seminar in climate and cryosphere we chose to discuss papers under the broad umbrella of “Applications and implications of climatically forced cryospheric change”.

We are almost at the end of the course and I wanted to have a look at some of the themes we covered, so I made a word cloud by putting the abstracts of all the papers chosen by the class participants into the online tool, and this is the result:

I think it looks like they did a really good job of choosing papers!

If you’re interested in the suggested papers on this topic and which ones we actually discussed you can have a look at the course webpage.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on MSc literature seminar