Research Fellow in Land Ice Earth Observation
Area of work, and why it’s important:
My research focuses on detecting and interpreting changes in the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets using satellite data. Greenland and Antarctica are strongly affected by changes in the climate – there has been a 6-fold increase in the rate of mass loss of the ice sheets compared to the early 1990s, due to rising air and ocean temperatures. Even though the polar regions can seem very remote, their impact should not be underestimated: they play an important role in the climate system and contribute to global mean sea-level. Accurately estimating mass changes of the ice sheets is crucial, as it is estimated that, for every centimetre of sea-level rise, a further 6 million people will be at risk of coastal flooding. Using satellite observations, we can provide robust estimates of ice sheet mass change, which can in turn help constrain projections of future sea-level rise and design adaptation policies to protect our coastal communities.
What will you be doing at COP26?
At COP26, I will present our latest assessment of Earth’s total ice losses, in which we looked at how the ice present on Earth has been changing since the 1990s using a combination of satellite data and model outputs. We have looked at changes in the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets, mountain glaciers around the world, the ice shelves floating around Antarctica, and sea ice drifting on the Arctic and Southern Ocean. We have found that globally, the Earth has lost 28 trillion tonnes of ice since 1992 due to rising air and ocean temperatures, which is equivalent to a 100-metre thick sheet of ice covering the whole of the UK.
What are your hopes for the COP26 negotiations?
I hope that COP26 will be an important event, not only in terms of bringing awareness to the current state of the climate, but also in terms of concrete actions with a clear and ambitious timeframe that is up to the challenges we are facing. Acting now to reduce greenhouse emissions is critical. There is for instance a lag between the effect of climate policies and the response of the ice sheets, which is why we need rapid action to limit long-term sea-level rise related risks.
Any tips for readers about climate action?
We need to recognise that our attempts at tacking climate change should not be limited to addressing environmental concerns but are also inseparable from a commitment to social justice. Voting, signing petitions or participating in a climate march are some examples of what we can do as individuals to put pressure on political bodies and institutions to encourage meaningful change.