High-resolution spatial and temporal variations in albedo of ablating ice – drivers, patterns and dynamics

Project run time  |  Oct 17 – March 19

Project funding  |  Early PostDoc.Mobility Fellowship funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNFS) http://p3.snf.ch/project-174888

Collaborators at Aberystwyth University  |  Dr T. Irvine-Fynn, Dr T. Holt, Prof Dr A. Hubbard

Study sites

  • West Greenland (Russell Catchment)
  • Fountain Glacier, Bylot Island, Canada
  • Fornoglacier, European Alps, Switzerland
  • Glaciar Exploradores, Southern Patagonia



The spectral albedo of bare-ice dictates the magnitude of glacier ablation due to the dominance of shortwave radiation as a driver of melt processes. One of the current major uncertainties in predictive modelling of glacier melt under future climate scenarios is the pattern and evolution of bare-ice albedo due to the extending snow-free time period associated with lengthening summer seasons. Most numerical models hugely simplify the albedo parameter for bare glacier ice, with only a few accounting for spatial variation and almost none that consider time-dependent changes. Consequently, the aim of this research is to characterise and quantify the primary drivers, patterns and dynamics of spectral albedo of ablating bare glacier ice. This project will address the knowledge gap relating to spatio-temporal change in bare-ice albedo through a set of three core objectives: first, to use Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or drones) to image bare ice to retrieve spatial data relating to spectral albedo and ice surface characteristics including ice structure, impurity distribution and high-resolution topography. Second, to use sequences of UAV survey data to examine the nature of temporal change in the surface albedo of bare glacier ice surfaces, seeking to quantify and/or identify relationships that allow for the development of a parameterisation of a spatially and temporally varying ice albedo parameter. Finally, to compare and contrast spatial and temporal signatures identified for glacier ice albedo across latitudinal gradients and glacier scales based on datasets from the Alps, Greenland and Arctic Canada to ascertain the applicability and transferability of any particular bare-ice albedo parameterisation.Glacier recession and the decline in ice volumes worldwide is a critical contributor to sea level rise. Additionally, changing runoff patterns will influence the biodiversity of glacier-fed streams and rivers and significantly impact on freshwater resources, water availability for agriculture or natural hazards. Thus, a comprehensive understanding and accurate representation of parameters and processes driving glacier melt are of great importance to ascertain current and future estimates of glacial behaviour and thus potential freshwater resources, causes for natural hazards or contribution to global sea level rise that directly impact on socio-economic sector of human life and well-being.