Research topics

Greenland Ice Sheet surface mass balance

The Greenland Ice Sheet has recently become the single largest cryospheric contributor to global sea-level rise primarily due to enhanced surface melt. I use a combination of remote sensing, targeted field campaigns and climate modeling to constrain processes that are responsible for ice sheet mass loss. Research questions include (1) how much do snowline fluctuations amplify surface melt? (Ryan et al., 2020, Sci. Adv.), (2) to what extent do particulates such as dust, black carbon and ice algae determine surface albedo? (Ryan et al., 2018, Nat. Comm.), and (3) how much snow falls on the ice sheet? (Ryan et al., 2020, JGR-Atmospheres). Two of these studies were cited in Chapter 3 of the IPCC’s recent (Sept. 2019) Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate and have led to refinements in climate models used to forecast future ice sheet contributions to global sea-level rise.

Coastal sea ice

Coastal sea ice (also known as landfast or shorefast ice) is an important platform for human subsistence food production and transport in the Arctic. As the climate warms, residents local to the Arctic report that it is breaking up earlier in the year and is thinner than it was a few decades ago. These environmental changes threaten the sustainability of wildlife and traditional human activities that depend on coastal ice. This project seeks to combine remote sensing with Indigenous knowledge to understand how transportation and subsistence hunting opportunities have been impacted by diminishing coastal ice thickness in Uummannaq Bay, West Greenland. The co-produced knowledge will provide a new understanding of community resilience to climate change and inform local and institutional adaptation strategies to rapidly changing environmental and social contexts. The first paper from this project was recently published (Cooley et al., 2020, Nat. Climate Change).

Global water resources

Freshwater reservoirs provide critical services (e.g. hydroelectricity generation, irrigation, water supply) to societies around the world. However, global knowledge of reservoir water levels is limited because reservoir gauge data are often proprietary, difficult to access, or non-existent. This research uses ICESat-2 (NASA's recently launched satellite laser altimeter) to characterize the seasonal behavior and societal function of global reservoirs from space. Expected outcomes include (1) a “first-of-its-kind” baseline dataset that characterizes the current state of managed global water resources over the 2019-2022 study period, (2) a foundations for long-term investigation of global reservoir response to climate change and human demand, (3) collaboration with NASA's upcoming Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission.

More projects coming soon...