School of GeoSciences Research

Research activities

Research activities in the Edinburgh Cryosphere research group.


4D Antarctica

Our group is part of a major project, called 4D Antarctica, funded by the European Space Agency to monitor and understand the flow of water over, through, and beneath the Antarctic ice sheet and understand its impacts on ice flow and sea-level rise.

Visit the 4D Antarctica website

Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE)

The Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) is a NASA Terrestrial Ecology Programme field campaign that will be conducted in Alaska and Western Canada.

Dr Steven Hancock contributes to this programme via the project 'Mapping boreal forest biomass density for the ABoVE domain circa 2020 with ICESat-2'

The objectives of this research are to:

  • Develop boreal ICESat-2 biomass models using existing field plot data and discrete return airborne lidar data.
  • Produce a boreal forest biomass density map for the ABoVE domain at 1 ha spatial resolution representing 2019-2021 using ICESat-2 data and temporally coincident landsat products.
  • Utilize data from the 2017 LVIS campaign for product validation.
  • Assess the 2010-2020 biomass flux associated with key disturbance agents.

Visit the Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) website


Our group is a member of an international collaboration called AntArchitecture, which is supported by the scientific committee on Antarctic research, that aims to develop a continent‐wide, age‐depth model of Antarctica’s ice using the internal layers and surfaces imaged by radar‐sounding.  

The product is part of a larger goal and will assist with our understanding of the stability of the Antarctic ice sheets, over past glacial cycles. 

Visit the AntArchitecture website

Arctic PRIZE – sea ice changes and primary production 

We investigate how ongoing sea ice changes in the Arctic Ocean impact primary production by modifying ocean mixing and nutrient supply to the surface ocean and light availability to phytoplankton blooms, and how these changes in primary production propagate through Arctic food webs. 

Visit the Arctic PRIZE website

CASCADA - shrinking glaciers and water quality in the Peruvian Andes 

Cascading impacts of Peruvian glacier shrinkage on biogeochemical cycling and acid drainage in aquatic ecosystems (CASCADA) is a joint UK-Peruvian research project which investigates the impacts of shrinking glaciers on water quality in the Peruvian Andes.  

Our researchers seek to understand how the shrinking of glaciers is impacting biogeochemical cycling and aquatic ecosystems in the Peruvian Andes.  They are investigating water chemistry and invertebrate communities in the glacial meltwater rivers of the Cordillera Blanca Region.

Visit the CASCADA website

ChAOS – the Changing Arctic Ocean Seafloor 

We examine how changing sea ice conditions in the Arctic Ocean influence the structure and functioning of seafloor ecosystems and the cycling of carbon and nutrients between the seafloor and overlying ocean, with consequences for ocean nutrient budgets and productivity. 

Visit the ChAOS website

CryoSat – Mountain Glaciers 

The objective of this project is to generate measurements of elevation changes across the world’s mountain glaciers’ using CryoSat observations and to scientifically exploit these results to determine their mass balance and sea-level contribution.

Knowledge of mountain glacier topography and its change over time is a basic parameter of glaciological research and has been identified by the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) and by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a major shortcoming of the current observational capability because there is currently no demonstrated system that can routinely monitor glaciers in rugged mountainous terrain.

It is the project's aim to demonstrate that global assessment of glaciers from radar altimetry is possible, and to support the definition of a mission concept for the next generation of Sentinel satellites launch by the European Union and European Space Agency (ESA), thus providing the first operational monitoring of glaciers at the global scale.  

Visit the CryoSat website

CryoTEMPO EOLIS – developing datasets from CryoSat 

CryoTEMPO EOLIS is a project funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) to generate new semi-operational ESA products. It aims to consolidate the research and development done during the CryoSat+ CryoTop / CryoTop evolution ESA STSE projects into two operational products.  These consist of analysis-ready time-dependent elevation covering all land-ice regions, i.e. both ice sheets as well as glaciers. 

Visit the CryoTEMPO EOLIS website

Digital Twin - Antarctica 

Digital Twin - Antarctica, is a major project funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) to build an advanced dynamic reconstruction of Antarctica’s hydrology, interaction with the ocean and atmosphere, to be used by stakeholders such as decision-makers, agencies, managers, scientists and engaged citizens. This activity is linked with the European Commission Green Deal and Digital strategies, via the Destination Earth initiative.

The objective of the Destination Earth initiative is to develop a very high precision digital model of the Earth to monitor and simulate natural and human activity and to develop and test scenarios that would enable more sustainable development and support European environmental policies. 

Visit the Digital Twin - Antarctica website

Earthwave – innovations in Earth Observation 

In 2018, we created the School start-up Earthwave to push innovations in the fields of Earth observation, data science and system engineering. Earthwave has grown to employ seven people and conducts projects funded by space agencies and academia, with partners across the UK and Europe.   

Visit the Earthwave website

GLAMIS - Global Lidar Altimeter MISsion 

GLAMIS, the Global Lidar Altimeter MISsion, is funded by the UK Space Agency that aims to investigate whether advances in photonics, small-sats and deployable optics can increase the coverage of spaceborne lidar. 

Satellite lidar (laser ranging) has come of age in the last few years, providing unique insights into the cryosphere, biosphere and atmosphere, but current systems provide very limited coverage (around 2% of the Earth's surface are directly imaged).

Dr Steven Hancock is the Principal Investigator of this project.

More information on this project award on *ERE

International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration

We are part of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, an international team of over 100 scientists, investigating the future of one of the most unstable glaciers in Antarctica.

Visit the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration website

Our researchers acquire and analyse geophysical data and modelling of the glacier’s future contributions to sea-level rise and through this collaboration, we are investigating the following projects:

  • Geophysical Habitat Of Subglacial Thwaites (GHOST)
  • PROcesses, drivers, Prediction: modelling the History and Evolution of Thwaites (PROPHET
Visit the Geophysical Habitat Of Subglacial Thwaites (GHOST) website Visit the PROcesses, drivers, Prediction: modelling the History and Evolution of Thwaites (PROPHET) website Zoom in on the Thwaites Glacier's by visiting their explorer page 

NASA GEDI – the role of vegetation structure in snow processes

NASA’s Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) produces high-resolution laser ranging observations of the 3D structure of the Earth. 

Dr Steven Hancock contributes to this programme via the project 'Using GEDI data to improve understanding of the role of vegetation structure in snow processes'.  Vegetation’s complex structure interacts with the sun’s radiation to produce heterogeneous light environments on the ground, affecting the rate of snowmelt which in turn affect the impacts and feedbacks of climate change.  These data are currently uncertain in global climate and weather predictions.

This project aims to make use of GEDI lidar satellite data to better characterise vegetation structure and its impact on snowmelt. 

QUoRUM  - reducing uncertainties in ice-sheet sea-level contributions 

QUoRUM (Quantifying and Reducing Uncertainty in Multi-Decadal Projection of Ice Sheet-Sea Level Contribution) is an Edinburgh-led NERC Standard Grant devoted to characterising uncertainty in ice-sheet model projections.

The uncertainty in ice-sheet models associated with initialisation, and how this uncertainty propagates within projections, is largely unconstrained and yet is a leading source of uncertainty in century-scale Antarctic ice-sheet simulations.  This project makes use of sophisticated computational tools for PDE-solving and automatic differentiation together with methodologies for quantifying the uncertainty of parameter sets in order to quantify uncertainty in ice-sheet predictions, to understand how it grows over time, and to hopefully identify the leading sources of uncertainty to inform future observing missions.

More information on this project award on *ERE 

ReSCUES  - reducing snow-climate uncertainties 

Activities we lead under the NERC-funded Reducing Snow-Climate Uncertainty in Earth System modelling (ReSCUES) project include: 

  • Evaluation of Earth system model snow schemes at highly instrumented reference sites 
  • Development of a flexible snow model for exploring sources of uncertainty in snow modelling 

More information on this project award on *ERE

SWARM – assessing glacial water resources for China  

SWARM (Impacts Assessment to Support WAter Resources Management and Climate Change Adaptation for China) is a project within the Climate Science for Service Partnership (CSSP) China program, a joint BEIS/Newton Fund effort that aims to accelerate climate science research programmes to underpin the development of climate services that help build resilience to climate vulnerability.

Led by the University of East Anglia, with investigators from the universities of Edinburgh, Exeter, and Sussex, SWARM aims to provide an integrated assessment of current water resources and potential future changes in China. We lead the glacier-modelling component, assessing the effect of climate change on glacier retreat and the associated hydrological impacts. 

Visit the CSSP China website


* Edinburgh Research Explorer (ERE) is the University's research information system and is managed by Library and University Collections.