Glacier Environmental Change | Research Overview

Whether natural or human-induced, climate and environmental changes have consequences for society. Glaciers respond to climate, but also supply water resources. We research the nature, extent, and biophysical impact of changes in glacier environments over time. Our group focuses on modern glacier recession as well as Late-Glacial to Holocene variability, and we aim to develop transdisciplinary understanding of climate forcing, hydrologic impacts, social adaptation and vulnerability.Tracing changes in mountain glacier mass over time elucidates dynamics of physical phenomena (climate change, erosion, sedimentation, hydrology) and informs the evaluation of impacts to human society (availability and quality of water). We desire to quantify these processes, better predict their future changes, and inform strategies of adaptation.

Instruments and methods


We measure glacier mass changes, landscape alteration, surface and subsurface hydrology, water quality, glacial geomorphology, climatic variability and lake sediments. Specific recent data acquisition efforts include: water quality analyses (including trace metals); airborne laser swath mapping (using LIDAR) of glaciers and proglacial valleys; photogrammetry (aerial and terrestrial) of glacier changes; ground (ice) penetrating radar of glacier depth and proglacial valley stratigraphy; hydrochemistry to analyze hydrological sources and contributions to surface and groundwater; stream discharge logging, with acoustic Doppler profiling; groundwater monitoring with piezometers and temperature loggers; hydrometeorological observations with vertically distributed instrument arrays; satellite image and altimetry analysis (ASTER, Landsat, SPOT, SRTM);moraine mapping with GPS and dating with cosmogenic radionuclides; lake and wetland sediment coring;computer modeling, including GIS-based coupled glacier mass balance and ice flow, catchment scale hydrologic balance, and hydrochemical mixing models.

Our projections


Ongoing and future developments include new technologies and methods, new transdisciplinary integration with social scientists on coupled natural and human systems and dynamics of environmental change, and expansion into new regions of the Andes and Asia. We have new instruments for water quality analyses and discharge. We are expanding efforts to integrate our physical hydrological work with human geographic assessment of indigenous livelihood level impacts, adaptation schemes, and resilience to environmental change. We are also researching Andean climatic gradients throughout the Holocene and Late-Glacial using lake cores and moraine chronology, as well as processes of glacier change, water and biogeochemical cycling in Alaskan peatlands. In the Great Basin, Nevada, we are maintaining hydroclimatic observations and measuring heavy metal and contaminants in watershed sediments.

Geographic scope


While our research focuses primarily is on glaciers and mountain environments in the tropical Andes and Africa, We also work in Alaska and mid-latitude sites once occupied by glaciers, including Great Basin National Park and Central Ohio. We gather field data and maintain embedded sensor networks in a number of specific highland regions in Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Africa, Alaska and Nevada.

Glacier Environmental Change

Research funding


Research funding We have been funded by NASA, NSF, National Geographic Society, Western National Parks Association, as well as the Climate, Water & Carbon initiative, Department of Geography and Office of International Affairs at the Ohio State University. Funding has been in 1-5 year grants, and resources are used for supporting students, post-docs, field equipment, laboratory analyses, travel, and computing software and support.

 

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