Changes in Glacier and Ice Shelf Extents in a climate warming hot-spot - the Antarctic Peninsula
Alison COOK, AXA Research Fellow
Year of selection
Support by the AXA Research Fund
TYPE OF SUPPORT
Keeping tabs on Ice Meting
The Antarctic Peninsula (AP) is both one of our
planet’s coldest locations and a major climate
warming “hot spot,” thought to be one of the largest
contributors to the current rise in sea level.
Alison Cook was not put off by the cold, however:
she explored this remote and harsh area to gather
data and survey glaciers over the course of three
expeditions. The geometry and dynamics of glaciers
have changed over the past century in this
region. Cook is trying to identify the main drivers
of glacial retreat, with particular attention to climatic
conditions. Her innovative approach combines
satellite imagery and aerial photographs to
provide comprehensive coverage of the changes
over a wide area. Her ultimate aim is to deliver a
Geographic Information System (GIS) database of
AP glaciers in order to identify patterns of change.
She hopes to enable better predictions of glacier
response to climate change over the next century
in this sensitive region.
her PhD following 10 years of work with the British Antarctic Survey. Her role there
as Geographic Data Analyst primarily involved compilation of new topographic
maps for the scientists who visit these harsh environments, including fieldwork
to gather aerial photographs and survey positions. Her job also included a wide
range of other mapping projects, such as making maps for publication, maps to assist
with logistics for Antarctic fieldwork and scientific research into changes in
glacial features. Under a joint project between the US Geological Survey and
British Antarctic Survey, ‘Coastal-Change and Glaciological Maps of Antarctica’
she used aerial photographs and satellite imagery, explorers’ maps and reports
to map the changes in ice extent on the AP over the last century. This project
finished with the delivery of the most comprehensive GIS database of changes in
ice extent around the AP, three hardcopy maps showing these changes and a paper
published in Science summarising the trends (Cook et al., 2005).
at the British Antarctic Survey, Alison studied for an MSc in GIS at Edinburgh
University, where her dissertation examined changes in volume of a glacier in
Iceland using photogrammetric techniques. Prior to that, she attended St
Andrews University for her degree in Geography. Growing up in Scotland, she has
always had a love for the outdoors and a desire to understand the physical
processes behind the formation of our landscapes.
What has your AXA fellowship brought you?
fellowship has brought me the fantastic opportunity to do a research project
that I am passionate about. The Antarctic Peninsula is a “climate warming
hot-spot” and contains extensive glaciers that are retreating rapidly and
contributing to global sea-level rise. Currently, we know very little about
these glaciers, or the processes controlling changes in their extent. The aim
of my project is to fill this knowledge gap and study how and why the glaciers
have changed over the past century, which will assist with predictions of how
they may contribute to future sea-level rise.
The funding has
enabled me to come and study this topic as a PhD at Swansea University in Wales,
joining a Glaciology group that is well-recognised for its Polar research,
giving me a strong supportive environment and allowing me to develop my career
within an experienced team.
With the AXA
fellowship I am able to expand my knowledge by attending courses and
conferences and meet with scientists internationally in this field of research.
The funds have also allowed purchase of the equipment, software and data
required for the interpretation of the glacier changes.
Could you describe your experiences with the AXA
Research Fund community?
I began my PhD
in October 2010 and have already met with other researchers who are studying various
aspects of the environmental risks of climate change. AXA gave us the
opportunity to get together and share ideas and report on our latest findings,
and make useful contacts for future research. The AXA ‘Talent Day’ meeting at
the headquarters in Paris also gave us the chance to speak to two leading
scientists, Professor Hervé Le Treut and Sir Brian Hoskins, and hear about
their latest research on climate-related topics. I was very impressed by this
event and all the opportunities it gave us to assist with our work.
Can you briefly describe what your research project is
My research focuses on the extensive glaciers
in the Antarctic Peninsula that are retreating
rapidly and contributing to sea-level rise. We need to understand the processes
controlling the changes in their extent, so I will analyse spatial patterns of
change over the recent past, combined with information on changes in geometry
and dynamics of the glaciers. Alongside meteorological and ocean temperature
records, this will help to determine the main drivers of glacial retreat. The
results will be improved predictions in likely future changes of ice shelves
and marine glaciers in the Antarctic Peninsula, a region that is thought to be
one of the largest contributors to current sea-level rise.
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