Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder

Waleed Abdalati

Research Interests

My research interests are in the use of satellite and airborne remote sensing techniques, integrated with in situ observations and modeling, to understand how and why the Earth's ice cover is changing, and what those changes mean for life on Earth. In particular, my research focuses on the contributions of ice sheets and high-latitude glaciers to sea level rise and their relationship to the changing climate. In addition, I focus on improving the ways in which sea level rise information is packaged and presented in ways that can maximize its use by and value to planners, decision-makers, and policy-makers. 

Current Research

Using satellites and in situ measurements to study polar ice, my group works with space-based, airborne, and in situ observations to study changes in Earth’s glaciers and ice sheets, with a focus on three areas. The first is the development of methods for determining the nature and distribution of crevasses on the Greenland ice sheet from satellite laser altimetry data, and their implications for Greenland’s contributions to sea level rise. Crevasses are inherently three-dimensional in structure, so, while visible imagery can be used to map crevasses, laser altimetry, such as that provided by ICESat and its successor, ICESat-2, provide an opportunity to examine three-dimensional structure of the surface in ways that provide new information and new insights into crevasse distribution and structure on the Greenland ice sheet. These crevasses are a direct result stresses accumulated and released during glacier flow, and they provide a mechanism for delivering meltwater to the bottom of the ice sheet, which can have significant implications on glacier flow and ice sheet losses. 

The second area of focus is on the characteristics of the seas surrounding Greenland and how their interactions with the outlet glaciers that drain the ice sheet impact the ways in which the sea/ice exchanges affect the discharge of ice from the ice sheets. The melting and retreat of floating ice (ice tongues) at the glacier fronts comprise the greatest uncertainty in determining how much and how fast the Greenland ice sheet will contribute to sea level rise.  Understanding the thermodynamic and dynamic processes where the ice meets the water is critical to reducing that uncertainty and developing more reliable forecasts. Satellite observations of temperature, combined with in situ observations of temperature, salinity, and circulation, as well as ocean modeling results provide the opportunity to gain new insights into the processes that occur at these critical interfaces. 

Finally, in addition to understanding the physical processes that affect ice sheet contributions to sea level rise, I lead an effort that engages scientists, decision-makers, policy-makers and planners to ensure that the users of sea level rise data are aware of and understand the current state of scientific knowledge and that the producers of sea level rise information understand user needs and communicate the state of scientific knowledge in ways that are most effective and useful. 

icy, cracked field

Crevasse field on the western Greenland ice sheet near Melville Bay showing the difference in topography between crevassed areas (lower two thirds of the image) and smooth non-crevassed areas. Photo: NASA

cracked, washed out road covered in water

Washed out road resulting from storm surges. As sea levels rise, the frequency and inland extent of storm surges increases. Image: U.S. Department of Transportation

Honors and Awards

  • Selected to serve as NASA Chief Scientist, 2011–2012
  • NASA GSFC Center Director Team Recognition Award, 2007
  • American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronaustics Space Systems Award, 2006
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration Exceptional Service Medal, 2004
  • NASA Group Achievement Award, ICESat Science Team, 2004
  • NASA Office of Earth Science Award, 2003
  • NASA Group Achievement Award, Honor Award Team 2003
  • NASA Office of Earth Science Terra Peer Award, 2002
  • NASA Office of Earth Science Award, 2002
  • NASA Office of Earth Science Award, 2001
  • Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, 1999
  • Tau Beta Pi National Engineering Honor Society (since 1985)

View Publications

  • MacFerrin, M., Machguth, H., Van As, D., Charalampidis, C., Stevens, C. M., Vandecrux, B., Heilig, A., Langen, P., Mottram, R., Fettweis, X., Van den Broeke, M.R., Moussavi, M., Abdalati, W. (2019), Rapid expansion of Greenland's low-permeability ice slabs. Nature Version: 1, doi:
  • MacFerrin, M; Machguth, H; van As, D; Charalampidis, C; Stevens, CM; Heilig, A; Vandecrux, B; Langen, PL; Mottram, R; Fettweis, X; van den Broeke, MR; Pfeffer, WT; Moussavi, MS; Abdalati, W (2019), Rapid expansion of Greenlands low-permeability ice slabs. Version: 1 NATURE 573 (7774) 403-+, issn: 0028-0836, doi: 10.1038/s41586-019-1550-3, PubMed ID: 31534244
  • Markus, T, T Neumann, A Martino, W Abdalati, K Brunt, B Csatho, S Farrell, H Fricker, A Gardner, D Harding, M Jasinski, R Kwok, L Magruder, D Lubin, S Luthcke, J Morison, R Nelson, A Neuenschwander, S Palm, S Popescu, CK Shum, BE Schutz, B Smith, YK Yang and J Zwally (2017), The Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2): Science requirements, concept, and implementation. Remote Sens. Environ. Version: 1 190 260-273, issn: 0034-4257, ids: EL1RS, doi: 10.1016/j.rse.2016.12.029
  • Bayram, H, AK Bauer, W Abdalati, C Carlsten, KE Pinkerton, GD Thurston, JR Balmes and TK Takaro (2017), Environment, Global Climate Change, and Cardiopulmonary Health. Am. J. Respir. Crit. Care Med. Version: 1 195 (6) 718-724, issn: 1073-449X, ids: EO4BX, doi: 10.1164/rccm.201604-0687PP, PubMed ID: 27654004
  • Colgan, W, H Rajaram, W Abdalati, C McCutchan, R Mottram, MS Moussavi and S Grigsby (2016), Glacier crevasses: Observations, models, and mass balance implications. Rev. Geophys. Version: 1 54 (1) 119-161, issn: 8755-1209, ids: DK1RE, doi: 10.1002/2015RG000504
  • Moussavi, MS, W Abdalati, A Pope, T Scambos, M Tedesco, M MacFerrin and S Grigsby (2016), Derivation and validation of supraglacial lake volumes on the Greenland Ice Sheet from high-resolution satellite imagery. Remote Sens. Environ. Version: 1 183 294-303, issn: 0034-4257, ids: DU6SR, doi: 10.1016/j.rse.2016.05.024
  • Colgan, W, A Sommers, H Rajaram, W Abdalati and J Frahm (2015), Considering thermal-viscous collapse of the Greenland ice sheet. Earth Future Version: 1 3 (7) 252-267, issn: 2328-4277, ids: CP5DT, doi: 10.1002/2015EF000301, PubMed ID: 27819011
  • Colgan, W, W Abdalati, M Citterio, B Csatho, X Fettweis, S Luthcke, G Moholdt, SB Simonsen and M Stober (2015), Hybrid glacier Inventory, Gravimetry and Altimetry (HIGA) mass balance product for Greenland and the Canadian Arctic. Remote Sens. Environ. Version: 1 168 24-39, issn: 0034-4257, ids: CR5SY, doi: 10.1016/j.rse.2015.06.016
  • McGrath, D, K Steffen, PR Holland, T Scambos, H Rajaram, W Abdalati and E Rignot (2014), The structure and effect of suture zones in the Larsen C Ice Shelf, Antarctica. J. Geophys. Res.-Earth Surf. Version: 1 119 (3) 588-602, issn: 2169-9003, ids: AE9WR, doi: 10.1002/2013JF002935
  • Moussavi, MS, W Abdalati, T Scambos and A Neuenschwander (2014), Applicability of an automatic surface detection approach to micropulse photon-counting lidar altimetry data: implications for canopy height retrieval from future ICESat-2 data. Int. J. Remote Sens. Version: 1 35 (13) 5263-5279, issn: 0143-1161, ids: AM8EU, doi: 10.1080/01431161.2014.939780
  • Painter, TH, MG Flanner, G Kaser, B Marzeion, RA VanCuren and W Abdalati (2013), End of the Little Ice Age in the Alps forced by industrial black carbon. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. Version: 1 110 (38) 15216-15221, issn: 0027-8424, ids: 219GW, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1302570110, PubMed ID: 24003138
  • Arendt, A, S Luthcke, A Gardner, S ONeel, D Hill, G Moholdt and W Abdalati (2013), Analysis of a GRACE global mascon solution for Gulf of Alaska glaciers. J. Glaciol. Version: 1 59 (217) 913-924, issn: 0022-1430, ids: 231AK, doi: 10.3189/2013JoG12J197
  • Phillips, T, H Rajaram, W Colgan, K Steffen and W Abdalati (2013), Evaluation of cryo-hydrologic warming as an explanation for increased ice velocities in the wet snow zone, Sermeq Avannarleq, West Greenland. J. Geophys. Res.-Earth Surf. Version: 1 118 (3) 1241-1256, issn: 2169-9003, ids: 238VC, doi: 10.1002/jgrf.20079
  • Colgan, W, S Luthcke, W Abdalati and M Citterio (2013), Constraining GRACE-derived cryosphere-attributed signal to irregularly shaped ice-covered areas. Cryosphere Version: 1 7 (6) 1901-1914, issn: 1994-0416, ids: 273OY, doi: 10.5194/tc-7-1901-2013
  • McGrath, D, K Steffen, H Rajaram, T Scambos, W Abdalati and E Rignot (2012), Basal crevasses on the Larsen C Ice Shelf, Antarctica: Implications for meltwater ponding and hydrofracture. Geophys. Res. Lett. Version: 1 39 , Art. No. L16504, issn: 0094-8276, ids: 999JZ, doi: 10.1029/2012GL052413
  • Colgan, W, H Rajaram, RS Anderson, K Steffen, HJ Zwally, T Phillips and W Abdalati (2012), The annual glaciohydrology cycle in the ablation zone of the Greenland ice sheet: Part 2. Observed and modeled ice flow. J. Glaciol. Version: 1 58 (207) 51-64, issn: 0022-1430, ids: 898QV, doi: 10.3189/2012JoG11J081
  • Liang, YL, W Colgan, Q Lv, K Steffen, W Abdalati, J Stroeve, D Gallaher and N Bayou (2012), A decadal investigation of supraglacial lakes in West Greenland using a fully automatic detection and tracking algorithm. Remote Sens. Environ. Version: 1 123 127-138, issn: 0034-4257, ids: 016CX, doi: 10.1016/j.rse.2012.03.020
  • Colgan, W, WT Pfeffer, H Rajaram, W Abdalati and J Balog (2012), Monte Carlo ice flow modeling projects a new stable configuration for Columbia Glacier, Alaska, c. 2020. Cryosphere Version: 1 6 (6) 1395-1409, issn: 1994-0416, ids: 059IV, doi: 10.5194/tc-6-1395-2012
  • Colgan, W, H Rajaram, R Anderson, K Steffen, T Phillips, I Joughin, HJ Zwally and W Abdalati (2011), The annual glaciohydrology cycle in the ablation zone of the Greenland ice sheet: Part 1. Hydrology model. J. Glaciol. Version: 1 57 (204) 697-709, issn: 0022-1430, ids: 822BT, doi: 10.3189/002214311797409668
  • Colgan, W, K Steffen, WS McLamb, W Abdalati, H Rajaram, R Motyka, T Phillips and R Anderson (2011), An increase in crevasse extent, West Greenland: Hydrologic implications. Geophys. Res. Lett. Version: 1 38 , Art. No. L18502, issn: 0094-8276, ids: 823PQ, doi: 10.1029/2011GL048491
  • Phillips, T, S Leyk, H Rajaram, W Colgan, W Abdalati, D McGrath and K Steffen (2011), Modeling moulin distribution on Sermeq Avannarleq glacier using ASTER and WorldView imagery and fuzzy set theory. Remote Sens. Environ. Version: 1 115 (9) 2292-2301, issn: 0034-4257, ids: 788ZZ, doi: 10.1016/j.rse.2011.04.029
  • Abdalati, W, HJ Zwally, R Bindschadler, B Csatho, SL Farrell, HA Fricker, D Harding, R Kwok, M Lefsky, T Markus, A Marshak, T Neumann, S Palm, B Schutz, B Smith, J Spinhirne and C Webb (2010), The ICESat-2 Laser Altimetry Mission. Proc. IEEE Version: 1 98 (5) 735-751, issn: 0018-9219, ids: 593WQ, doi: 10.1109/JPROC.2009.2034765
  • Joughin, I, BE Smith and W Abdalati (2010), Glaciological advances made with interferometric synthetic aperture radar. J. Glaciol. Version: 1 56 (200) 1026-1042, issn: 0022-1430, ids: 818KP, doi: 10.3189/002214311796406158
  • Arendt, AA, SB Luthcke, CF Larsen, W Abdalati, WB Krabill and MJ Beedle (2008), Validation of high-resolution GRACE mascon estimates of glacier mass changes in the St Elias Mountains, Alaska, USA, using aircraft laser altimetry. J. Glaciol. Version: 1 54 (188) 778-787, issn: 0022-1430, ids: 416WS
  • Tedesco, M, W Abdalati and HJ Zwally (2007), Persistent surface snowmelt over Antarctica (1987-2006) from 19.35 GHz brightness temperatures. Geophys. Res. Lett. Version: 1 34 (18) , Art. No. L18504, issn: 0094-8276, ids: 213RG, doi: 10.1029/2007GL031199
  • Luthcke, SB, HJ Zwally, W Abdalati, DD Rowlands, RD Ray, RS Nerem, FG Lemoine, JJ McCarthy and DS Chinn (2006), Recent Greenland ice mass loss by drainage system from satellite gravity observations. Science Version: 1 314 (5803) 1286-1289, issn: 0036-8075, ids: 108BR, doi: 10.1126/science.1130776, PubMed ID: 17053112
  • Krabill, W, E Hanna, P Huybrechts, W Abdalati, J Cappelen, B Csatho, E Frederick, S Manizade, C Martin, J Sonntag, R Swift, R Thomas and J Yungel (2004), Greenland Ice Sheet: Increased coastal thinning. Geophys. Res. Lett. Version: 1 31 (24) , Art. No. L24402, issn: 0094-8276, ids: 885BY, doi: 10.1029/2004GL021533
  • Joughin, I, W Abdalati and M Fahnestock (2004), Large fluctuations in speed on Greenland's Jakobshavn Isbrae glacier. Nature Version: 1 432 (7017) 608-610, issn: 0028-0836, ids: 875PL, doi: 10.1038/nature03130
  • Abdalati, W, W Krabill, E Frederick, S Manizade, C Martin, J Sonntag, R Swift, R Thomas, J Yungel and R Koerner (2004), Elevation changes of ice caps in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. J. Geophys. Res.-Earth Surf. Version: 1 109 (F4) , Art. No. F04007, issn: 0148-0227, ids: 875DS, doi: 10.1029/2003JF000045
  • Jacka, TH, W Abdalati, I Allison, F Carsey, G Casassa, M Fily, M Frezzotti, HA Fricker, C Genthon, I Goodwin, Z Guo, GS Hamilton, RCA Hindmarsh, CL Hulbe, TH Jacka, KC Jezek, TA Scambos, C Shuman, P Skvarca, S Takahashi, RSW van de Wal, DG Vaughan, WL Wang, RC Warner, DJ Wingham, NW Young and HJ Zwally (2004), Recommendations for the collection and synthesis of Antarctic Ice Sheet mass balance data. Glob. Planet. Change Version: 1 42 (4-Jan) 1-15, issn: 0921-8181, ids: 845ID, doi: 10.1016/j.gloplacha.2003.11.008
  • Thomas, RH, W Abdalati, E Frederick, WB Krabill, S Manizade and K Steffen (2003), Investigation of surface melting and dynamic thinning on Jakobshavn Isbrae, Greenland. J. Glaciol. Version: 1 49 (165) 231-239, issn: 0022-1430, ids: 771DW, doi: 10.3189/172756503781830764
  • Zwally, HJ, W Abdalati, T Herring, K Larson, J Saba and K Steffen (2002), Surface melt-induced acceleration of Greenland ice-sheet flow. Science Version: 1 297 (5579) 218-222, issn: 0036-8075, ids: 571UT, doi: 10.1126/science.1072708, PubMed ID: 12052902
  • Zwally, HJ, B Schutz, W Abdalati, J Abshire, C Bentley, A Brenner, J Bufton, J Dezio, D Hancock, D Harding, T Herring, B Minster, K Quinn, S Palm, J Spinhirne and R Thomas (2002), ICESat's laser measurements of polar ice, atmosphere, ocean, and land. J. Geodyn. Version: 1 34 (4-Mar) 405-445, issn: 0264-3707, ids: 602BK, doi: 10.1016/S0264-3707(02)00042-X
  • Abdalati, W, W Krabill, E Frederick, S Manizade, C Martin, J Sonntag, R Swift, R Thomas, W Wright and J Yungel (2002), Airborne laser altimetry mapping of the Greenland ice sheet: application to mass balance assessment. J. Geodyn. Version: 1 34 (4-Mar) 391-403, issn: 0264-3707, ids: 602BK, doi: 10.1016/S0264-3707(02)00048-0
  • Krabill, WB, W Abdalati, EB Frederick, SS Manizade, CF Martin, JG Sonntag, RN Swift, RH Thomas and JG Yungel (2002), Aircraft laser altimetry measurement of elevation changes of the greenland ice sheet: technique and accuracy assessment. J. Geodyn. Version: 1 34 (4-Mar) 357-376, issn: 0264-3707, ids: 602BK, doi: 10.1016/S0264-3707(02)00040-6
  • Abdalati, W and K Steffen (2001), Greenland ice sheet melt extent: 1979-1999. J. Geophys. Res.-Atmos. Version: 1 106 (D24) 33983-33988, issn: 2169-897X, ids: 522DE, doi: 10.1029/2001JD900181
  • Fahnestock, M, W Abdalati, I Joughin, J Brozena and P Gogineni (2001), High geothermal heat row, basal melt, and the origin of rapid ice how in central Greenland. Science Version: 1 294 (5550) 2338-2342, issn: 0036-8075, ids: 503TT, doi: 10.1126/science.1065370
  • Fahnestock, M, W Abdalati, S Luo and S Gogineni (2001), Internal layer tracing and age-depth-accumulation relationships for the northern Greenland ice sheet. J. Geophys. Res.-Atmos. Version: 1 106 (D24) 33789-33797, issn: 0747-7309, ids: 522DE, doi: 10.1029/2001JD900200
  • Abdalati, W, W Krabill, E Frederick, S Manizade, C Martin, J Sonntag, R Swift, R Thomas, W Wright and J Yungel (2001), Outlet glacier and margin elevation changes: Near-coastal thinning of the Greenland ice sheet. J. Geophys. Res.-Atmos. Version: 1 106 (D24) 33729-33741, issn: 0148-0227, ids: 522DE, doi: 10.1029/2001JD900192
  • Thomas, RH, W Abdalati, TL Akins, BM Csatho, EB Frederick, SP Gogineni, WB Krabill, SS Manizade and EJ Rignot (2000), Substantial thinning of a major east Greenland outlet glacier. Geophys. Res. Lett. Version: 1 27 (9) 1291-1294, issn: 0094-8276, ids: 309BX, doi: 10.1029/1999GL008473
  • Krabill, W, W Abdalati, E Frederick, S Manizade, C Martin, J Sonntag, R Swift, R Thomas, W Wright and J Yungel (2000), Greenland ice sheet: High-elevation balance and peripheral thinning. Science Version: 1 289 (5478) 428-430, issn: 0036-8075, ids: 336ME, doi: 10.1126/science.289.5478.428
  • Steffen, K, W Abdalati and I Sherjal (1999), Faceted crystal formation in the northeast Greenland low-accumulation region. J. Glaciol. Version: 1 45 (149) 63-68, issn: 0022-1430, ids: 193LX, doi: 10.3189/S002214300000304X
  • Abdalati, W and WB Krabill (1999), Calculation of ice velocities in the Jakobshavn Isbrae area using airborne laser altimetry. Remote Sens. Environ. Version: 1 67 (2) 194-204, issn: 0034-4257, ids: 160XB, doi: 10.1016/S0034-4257(98)00086-8
  • Abdalati, W and K Steffen (1998), Accumulation and hoar effects on microwave emission in the Greenland ice-sheet dry-snow zones. J. Glaciol. Version: 1 44 (148) 523-531, issn: 0022-1430, ids: 170JW
  • Abdalati, W and K Steffen (1997), Snowmelt on the Greenland ice sheet as derived from passive microwave satellite data. J. Clim. Version: 1 10 (2) 165-175, issn: 0894-8755, ids: WJ835, doi: 10.1175/1520-0442(1997)010<0165:SOTGIS>2.0.CO;2
  • Abdalati, W and K Steffen (1997), The apparent effects of the Mt Pinatubo eruption on the Greenland ice sheet melt extent. Geophys. Res. Lett. Version: 1 24 (14) 1795-1797, issn: 0094-8276, ids: XL837, doi: 10.1029/97GL01706
  • ABDALATI, W and K STEFFEN (1995), PASSIVE MICROWAVE-DERIVED SNOW MELT REGIONS ON THE GREENLAND ICE-SHEET. Geophys. Res. Lett. Version: 1 22 (7) 787-790, issn: 0094-8276, ids: QR153, doi: 10.1029/95GL00433
  • ABDALATI, W, K STEFFEN, C OTTO and KC JEZEK (1995), COMPARISON OF BRIGHTNESS TEMPERATURES FROM SSMI INSTRUMENTS ON THE DMSP F8 AND F11 SATELLITES FOR ANTARCTICA AND THE GREENLAND ICE-SHEET. Int. J. Remote Sens. Version: 1 16 (7) 1223-1229, issn: 0143-1161, ids: RG051, doi: 10.1080/01431169508954473
  • STEFFEN, K, W ABDALATI and J STROEVE (1993), CLIMATE SENSITIVITY STUDIES OF THE GREENLAND ICE-SHEET USING SATELLITE AVHRR, SMMR, SSM/I AND IN-SITU DATA. Meteorol. Atmos. Phys. Version: 1 51 (4-Mar) 239-258, issn: 0177-7971, ids: LM300, doi: 10.1007/BF01030497