Ice sheet and glacier stability in a warming world: Projecting future iceberg and sea level risks via rapid modelling and satellite image analysis

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Geography and Planning

Abstract

This fellowship will transform our understanding of how the ice sheets and glaciers at both poles will contribute to future sea level change, and anticipate future iceberg risks impacting the people, businesses and governments in these regions. Building on my recent work (Lea, 2018), significant cloud computing resources will be used to facilitate automated analysis of the unprecedented volume of Arctic and Antarctic satellite imagery that is generated every day. This is the first time that analysis at such scales will be undertaken, and would be otherwise unachievable using current glacier monitoring approaches.

Using results from this real-time updated analysis, a combination of new physically based and empirically based machine learning models will provide the first global assessment of glacier stability and framework to monitor this. This will allow significant improvements to short (<1 year) and long term (decadal) plans for infrastructure, industry projects and security as Arctic sea ice declines and both poles undergo major environmental changes. These factors are especially important for the UK as it impacts:
- The environment and security of UK administered territories in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.
- UK business making informed decisions on future project viability in polar regions, where icebergs pose a major hazard to shipping and infrastructure such as ports, rigs and subsea pipelines.
- The anticipated opening of the Northwest and Northeast Passage trade routes, offering UK business opportunities to significantly reduce the length and environmental impact of shipping. The future viability of these routes due to sudden glacier retreat and changing iceberg risks will have major implications for future UK supply chains between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have highlighted that the stability of marine terminating ice margins is a major uncertainty in global sea level change projections, and by extension iceberg risk. The existing barriers to achieving a global assessment of glacier stability are that:
- Current approaches to data collection (even for individual glaciers) can be extremely time intensive.
- The considerable computational power required by numerical models of glacier stability limits researchers to exploring only a few potential future scenarios.
Consequently only a handful of the 100s-1000s of these glaciers at each pole have been studied in detail, leaving our knowledge of future glacier and ice sheet stability woefully incomplete and poorly constrained. This fellowship's innovative image and stability analyses will directly address these challenges.

Ensuring that these novel findings have impact is built in as a key objective of this fellowship. Support from project partners will allow substantial and rarely achievable levels of engagement with the UK Government on objectives highlighted in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's recent publication 'Beyond the Ice: UK policy towards the Arctic' (2018), including: Projecting global influence; Protecting people and the environment; and Promoting prosperity. Three stakeholder events spanning the fellowship will also allow UK business to directly highlight their key concerns and help direct the generation of data products. These will be designed to allow UK business to make better informed decisions on the viability of ongoing and future projects in the polar regions.

Informed decision making relating to infrastructure at key locations is also in the UK's long term interest for the successful development of future trade routes. To this end, a three month placement at the Greenland Government's geoscience consultancy (Asiaq Greenland Survey) and regular trips as part of fieldwork to Greenland's largest city and deepwater port, Nuuk, will allow regular engagement with policymakers and industry at a pivotal location for the future development of the Northwest Passage shipping route.

Planned Impact

Impact is a key objective of this fellowship. Close collaboration with project partners will allow rarely achievable levels of access to UK Government policymakers, UK industry, intergovernmental organisations, and the public (see Pathways to Impact). Working closely with PPs Burgess, Gray & Læsoe throughout the fellowship we will actively seek out opportunities for impact across these sectors to enable direct stakeholder engagement. This will help ensure that the fellowship aligns and contributes to HM Government's vision of a Global Britain, reaping both short and long term benefits to the UK.

The improved estimates of future sea level change arising from this fellowship will be of critical importance to HM Government for the informed planning of future major coastal infrastructure investments in: sea defences; the next generation of nuclear power stations; and the long term viability of the UK's ports amongst others. This directly overlaps with UK business interests who will rely on such infrastructure to operate effectively in the long term.
Intergovernmental organisations led by the UN IPCC also provide international fora for assessing similar risks posed by future climate change and developing policy. Calving glaciers still represent a major uncertainty in their estimates of sea level change, meaning that the projections generated by this fellowship (from two independent approaches) will reduce uncertainty, and contribute to shaping global policy towards how nations will respond to future climate change.

The anticipated decline of Arctic sea ice will also provide new opportunities for UK business in terms of shipping (opening of the Northwest and Northeast Passages), and extractive industries including fossil fuels, mining and fisheries. However, issues of safety related to rapid glacier retreat and changing iceberg conditions will pose a potentially significant future hazard to shipping and key international infrastructure in these areas (including ports, rigs and subsea pipelines). Disruptions and/or damage to these could considerably impact future UK supply chains, meaning that it is in the UK's long term interest to ensure that new routes and port infrastructure (e.g. Nuuk, Greenland for the Northwest Passage) are viable in the long term, and that vulnerable locations are monitored.

In providing the first pan-Arctic assessment of glacier stability, this fellowship will help identify these vulnerable locations, forecast regional short and long term hazards, and anticipate risks posed to future international infrastructure developments. The fellowship will therefore allow UK industry operating in the Arctic (and Southern Ocean for years 5-7) to make informed decisions regarding short and long term project risk.

Concerns relating to the viability of shipping routes, safety of infrastructure and the security implications of these are also of significant interest to non-UK governments with territorial claims over these waters (including NATO allies). The UK has observer status on the intergovernmental Arctic Council where such issues are discussed, while the Foreign and Commonwealth Office also has a stated aim for the UK to both "remain a significant player in Arctic affairs", and be "a responsible steward of its interests" (HM Government, 2018:p2). By providing assessments of current and future iceberg risks in the region, the results of this fellowship will help contribute directly to this.

Significant public engagement opportunities also arise from this fellowship, with glaciers often being highlighted as dramatic physical representations of how climate has changed since the Industrial Age. Tools and results generated by this fellowship are therefore well positioned for the development of high school-university level educational resources, media engagement and impact on the public's perception of climate change.

Ref: HM Government (2018) Beyond the Ice: UK policy towards the Arctic

Publications

10 25 50

 
Description Travel support for attendance at Experimental Stories workshop
Amount £367 (GBP)
Organisation Wellcome Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2019 
End 02/2020
 
Description Travel support for attendance at POLENET Summer School, Gaevle, Sweden
Amount € 900 (EUR)
Organisation Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2019 
End 08/2019
 
Description Travel support for attendance at SPF meeting for the RRS Sir David Attenborough, Imperial College, London
Amount £320 (GBP)
Organisation Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2020 
End 03/2020
 
Description Travel support for attendance at UK Arctic and Antarctic Partnership follow-up meeting, Imperial College, London
Amount £270 (GBP)
Organisation Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2020 
End 02/2020
 
Title Greenland tidewater glacier margins for 1984 - 2017 
Description This data set was created by Dominik Fahrner (Institute for Risk and Uncertainty; Department of Geography and Planning, University of Liverpool) using the Google Earth Engine Digitisation Tool (GEEDiT; Lea, 2018) and is based on Landsat 4 - 8 satellite imagery. It comprises annual tidewater glacier margins (digitised in September of each year) for 206 Greenlandic tidewater glaciers for the period 1984 - 2017, and corresponding centerlines. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The first comprehensive, publically available database of Greenland tidewater glacier margins for the satellite era. This has just been published (March 2021), though the dataset was able to highlight previously unidentified behaviour (long term NE sector retreat, and linear response of tidewater glaciers to climate at a regional scale (as opposed to non-linear behaviour that is observed at an individual scale)(Fahrner et al., 2021) 
URL https://zenodo.org/record/4327594#.YEi4-tj7SUk
 
Description IcePicks: a collaborative database of Greenland outlet glacier termini 
Organisation University of California, Irvine
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution - contributed data - contributed a bespoke satellite image analysis tool to aid future data collection - contributed advice on data management - member of the group steering committee
Collaborator Contribution - collating existing datasets - creation of a consistent framework in which to hold the data
Impact - dataset of Greenland terminus positions collated from the glaciological community - further outputs will be forthcoming
Start Year 2020
 
Description IcePicks: a collaborative database of Greenland outlet glacier termini 
Organisation University of Kansas
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution - contributed data - contributed a bespoke satellite image analysis tool to aid future data collection - contributed advice on data management - member of the group steering committee
Collaborator Contribution - collating existing datasets - creation of a consistent framework in which to hold the data
Impact - dataset of Greenland terminus positions collated from the glaciological community - further outputs will be forthcoming
Start Year 2020
 
Description IcePicks: a collaborative database of Greenland outlet glacier termini 
Organisation University of Texas at Austin
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution - contributed data - contributed a bespoke satellite image analysis tool to aid future data collection - contributed advice on data management - member of the group steering committee
Collaborator Contribution - collating existing datasets - creation of a consistent framework in which to hold the data
Impact - dataset of Greenland terminus positions collated from the glaciological community - further outputs will be forthcoming
Start Year 2020
 
Description IcePicks: a collaborative database of Greenland outlet glacier termini 
Organisation University of Washington
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution - contributed data - contributed a bespoke satellite image analysis tool to aid future data collection - contributed advice on data management - member of the group steering committee
Collaborator Contribution - collating existing datasets - creation of a consistent framework in which to hold the data
Impact - dataset of Greenland terminus positions collated from the glaciological community - further outputs will be forthcoming
Start Year 2020
 
Description Being LGBTQ+ in Academia - National Postdoc Appreciation Week 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I organised and chaired a Q&A session with LGBTQ+ academics from the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores discussing our experiences of being LGBTQ+ in Academia as part of National Postdoc Appreciation Week 2020. The event was very well receieved by participants, including comments that it gave themselves more confidence to not hide their identity at work. A recording of the event is available at the link below.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/researcher/postdoc-appreciation-week/
 
Description Durham University - invited seminar and workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Workshop was on introducing research students to Google Earth Engine. Multiple students are now working with this tool to develop research outcomes.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description LGBTQ+ History Month (various events) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I assisted/led with coordinating and providing resources for University of Liverpool's LGBTQ+ History Month Activities in my role as Chair of the university's LGBTQ+ Staff and Postgraduate Network
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/hr/diversityandequality/events/lgbthistorymonth2021/
 
Description Ministerial visit from Science Minister Amanda Solloway MP 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I participated in a round table discussion with the minister, highlighting my research, and discussing the R&D Roadmap, specifically with respect to inclusivity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description NASA Research Highlight 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Research highlighted as part of NASA "Image of the Day" blog. This was also posted on NASA Earth Observatory's Instagram page (1.2 million followers), and Twitter (2 million followers)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/147530/shedding-light-on-greenland
 
Description NASA press conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Invited to participate in a NASA press conference at the AGU Fall Meeting 2019. This was attended by the international journalist pool at the conference, which resulted in multiple articles where research was highlighted (main outlets highlighted below):

National Geographic: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/newly-spotted-lakes-on-greenland-ice-sheet-speeding-up-demise
Daily Express: https://www.express.co.uk/news/science/1215851/nasa-news-melting-ice-time-lapse-climate-change-glaciers-greenland-antarctica
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Podcast for European Aurora Fellowship Programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact I was interviewed for a podcast by the Aurora Fellowship Programme, with the primary audience being the undergraduates that they support. The podcast covered my path into research and how I came to be working on the research I am conducting as part of the Fellowship. Afterwards I was invited to become a mentor for the Fellowship programme though unfortunately had to decline due to time commitment required.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://aurorafellows.com/en/
 
Description Racism in Academia - Q&A with journalist Angela Saini 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact I led the organisation of a Q&A with the science journalist Angela Saini on the topic of racism in academia. This event included participation from colleagues at the University of Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores, and Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. This event was preceded by a round table discussion with the senior leadership teams (including VC's) of each institution on this topic and what action can be taken to combat racism in our institutions. A podcast was also produced after the event (link below)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/the-academy/podcast/season-two/angela-saini/
 
Description Radio drama series on climate change - scientific advisor 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I provided scientific advice to the writers of the Radio 4 Drama "No Place But the Water" that directly informed the plot and setting of the drama. This was serialised as a podcast and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. The series was critically well received and a second series has been comissioned where I will again be scientific advisor.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000ly22
 
Description Talk for Liverpool Geological Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 30 attended this talk where I presented my research. I was also able to highlight the work of the Pride in Polar Network, which the Society subsequently engaged with, highlighting the role of LGBTQ+ researchers in Polar Science.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Wellcome Trust Town Hall event on Research Culture - member of Q&A panel 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was a member of the expert Q&A panel as part of the Wellcome Trust's town hall event hosted at the University of Liverpool targeting universities in the NW. The session was focussed on "building a an inclusive research culture".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://wellcome.org/sites/default/files/wellcome-research-culture-townhalls-report.pdf