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

Michael Willis

Research Interests

My research revolves around questions about the changing cryosphere and time-varying topography with a particular interest in the contribution of glaciers and ice sheets to sea level rise. I also have a developing research track deciphering the processes involved with cascading hazards such as tsunamis, landslides, and coastal inundation. My lab combines fieldwork with geodetic and remote sensing tools and high performance computing resources to examine changing topography at a variety of scales. These changes are driven by a variety of mechanisms such as melting or accelerating glacier ice, eroding permafrost, and seismic events, processes that have a direct impact on society.  

Current Research

I am working on several diverse projects, almost all focused on the use of remote sensing. Together with colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I  am examining the contribution of glaciers and mountain ice caps to sea level rise over the last half century. I am also working on a project using deep-learning techniques to extract topography from archived Antarctic aerial photos from the mid 20th Century. These projects will provide calibration and validation targets for sophisticated ice models. I continue to work on the POLENET project to refine ice histories and Earth rheological models for both Greenland and Antarctica.

Beyond my polar work, I am working to re-map the Los Angeles basin at very high resolution to examine geomorphological changes along active fault systems in the region. A second project is examining the mechanism that generated a gigantic 180-m tsunami wave within a branch of Icy Bay in Alaska in late 2015. Thankfully no one was hurt. 

Finally I am member of the ArcticDEM production team, using one of the largest ever awards of computer time on the NSF Bluewaters Pertascale computer facility to map the entire Arctic region at 2m resolution. This freely available data set, which will be rolled out by mid 2017 will revolutionize Earth science in the Arctic region, propelling it from one of the most poorly mapped regions of the planet, to one of the best.

digital elevation model Arctic islands

I am a member of the ArcticDEM production team, which is mapping the entire Arctic region at 2m resolution. The dataset will be rolled out in 2017; this DEM of Franz Josef Land is just a preview. Check out the 8-MB version on CIRES Flickr for greater detail. 

View Publications

  • Barletta, VR, M Bevis, BE Smith, T Wilson, A Brown, A Bordoni, M Willis, SA Khan, M Rovira-Navarro, I Dalziel, R Smalley, E Kendrick, S Konfal, DJ Caccamise, RC Aster, A Nyblade and DA Wiens (2018), Observed rapid bedrock uplift in Amundsen Sea Embayment promotes ice-sheet stability. Science Version: 1 360 (6395) 1335-+, issn: 0036-8075, ids: GK3JP, doi: 10.1126/science.aao1447, PubMed ID: 29930133
  • Berthier, E, C Larsen, WJ Durkin, MJ Willis and ME Pritchard (2018), Brief communication: Unabated wastage of the Juneau and Stikine icefields (southeast Alaska) in the early 21st century. Cryosphere Version: 1 12 (4) 1523-1530, issn: 1994-0416, ids: GE2VZ, doi: 10.5194/tc-12-1523-2018
  • Douglas R. MacAyeal, Alison F. Banwell, Emile A. Okal, Jinqiao Lin, Ian C. Willis, Becky Goodsell, Grant J. Macdonald (2018), Diurnal seismicity cycle linked to subsurface melting on an ice shelf. Annals of Glaciology Version: 11-21, doi: 10.1017/aog.2018.29
  • Willis, MJ, W Zheng, WJ Durkin, ME Pritchard, JM Ramage, JA Dowdeswell, TJ Benham, RP Bassford, LA Stearns, AF Glazovsky, YY Macheret and CC Porter (2018), Massive destabilization of an Arctic ice cap. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. Version: 1 502 146-155, issn: 0012-821X, ids: GX2RM, doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2018.08.049
  • Dufresne, A, M Geertsema, DH Shugar, M Koppes, B Higman, PJ Haeussler, C Stark, JG Venditti, D Bonno, C Larsen, SPS Gulick, N McCall, M Walton, MG Loso and MJ Willis (2018), Sedimentology and geomorphology of a large tsunamigenic landslide, Taan Fiord, Alaska. Sediment. Geol. Version: 1 364 302-318, issn: 0037-0738, ids: FW3KQ, doi: 10.1016/j.sedgeo.2017.10.004
  • Higman, B, DH Shugar, CP Stark, G Ekstrom, MN Koppes, P Lynett, A Dufresne, PJ Haeussler, M Geertsema, S Gulick, A Mattox, JG Venditti, MAL Walton, N McCall, E Mckittrick, B MacInnes, EL Bilderback, H Tang, MJ Willis, B Richmond, RS Reece, C Larsen, B Olson, J Capra, A Ayca, C Bloom, H Williams, D Bonno, R Weiss, A Keen, V Skanavis and M Loso (2018), The 2015 landslide and tsunami in Taan Fiord, Alaska. Sci Rep Version: 1 8 , Art. No. 12993, issn: 2045-2322, ids: GS6JR, doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-30475-w, PubMed ID: 30190595
  • Zheng, W, ME Pritchard, MJ Willis, P Tepes, N Gourmelen, TJ Benham and JA Dowdeswell (2018), Accelerating glacier mass loss on Franz Josef Land, Russian Arctic. Remote Sens. Environ. Version: 1 211 357-375, issn: 0034-4257, ids: GH7RI, doi: 10.1016/j.rse.2018.04.004
  • Xu, JW, RV Martin, A Morrow, S Sharma, L Huang, WR Leaitch, J Burkart, H Schulz, M Zanatta, MD Willis, DK Henze, CJ Lee, AB Herber and JPD Abbatt (2017), Source attribution of Arctic black carbon constrained by aircraft and surface measurements. Atmos. Chem. Phys. Version: 1 17 (19) 11971-11989, issn: 1680-7316, ids: FJ3RD, doi: 10.5194/acp-17-11971-2017
  • Durkin, WJ, TC Bartholomaus, MJ Willis and ME Pritchard (2017), Dynamic Changes at Yahtse Glacier, the Most Rapidly Advancing Tidewater Glacier in Alaska. Front. Earth Sci. Version: 1 5 , Art. No. UNSP 21, issn: 2296-6463, ids: EM5HZ, doi: 10.3389/feart.2017.00021
  • Smith, LC, K Yang, LH Pitcher, BT Overstreet, VW Chu, AK Rennermalm, JC Ryan, MG Cooper, CJ Gleason, M Tedesco, J Jeyaratnam, D van As, MR van den Broeke, WJ van de Berg, B Noel, PL Langen, RI Cullather, B Zhao, MJ Willis, A Hubbard, JE Box, BA Jenner and AE Behar (2017), Direct measurements of meltwater runoff on the Greenland ice sheet surface. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. Version: 1 114 (50) E10622-E10631, issn: 0027-8424, ids: FP7IJ, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1707743114, PubMed ID: 29208716
  • Shugar, DH, JJ Clague, JL Best, C Schoof, MJ Willis, L Copland and GH Roe (2017), River piracy and drainage basin reorganization led by climate-driven glacier retreat. Nat. Geosci. Version: 1 10 (5) 370-+, issn: 1752-0894, ids: ET6MY, doi: 10.1038/NGEO2932
  • Melkonian, AK, MJ Willis, ME Pritchard and AJ Stewart (2016), Recent changes in glacier velocities and thinning at Novaya Zemlya. Remote Sens. Environ. Version: 1 174 244-257, issn: 0034-4257, ids: DB8DI, doi: 10.1016/j.rse.2015.11.001
  • Pope, A, TA Scambos, M Moussavi, M Tedesco, M Willis, D Shean and S Grigsby (2016), Estimating supraglacial lake depth in West Greenland using Landsat 8 and comparison with other multispectral methods. Cryosphere Version: 1 10 (1) 15-27, issn: 1994-0416, ids: DO2IF, doi: 10.5194/tc-10-15-2016
  • Larsen, SH, SA Khan, AP Ahlstrom, CS Hvidberg, MJ Willis and SB Andersen (2016), Increased mass loss and asynchronous behavior of marine-terminating outlet glaciers at Upernavik IsstrOm, NW Greenland. J. Geophys. Res.-Earth Surf. Version: 1 121 (2) 241-256, issn: 2169-9003, ids: DH6UU, doi: 10.1002/2015JF003507
  • Melkonian Andrew K., Willis Michael J., Pritchard Matthew E. (2016), Stikine Icefield Mass Loss between 2000 and 2013/2014. Front. Earth Sci. Version: 1 4 , issn: 2296-6463 , doi: 10.3389/feart.2016.00089
  • Khan, SA, I Sasgen, M Bevis, T van Dam, JL Bamber, J Wahr, M Willis, KH Kjaer, B Wouters, V Helm, B Csatho, K Fleming, AA Bjork, A Aschwanden, P Knudsen and PK Munneke (2016), Geodetic measurements reveal similarities between post-Last Glacial Maximum and present-day mass loss from the Greenland ice sheet. Sci. Adv. Version: 1 2 (9) , Art. No. UNSP e1600931, issn: 2375-2548, ids: DW6CQ, doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1600931, PubMed ID: 27679819
  • Gomez, D, R Smalley, CA Langston, TJ Wilson, M Bevis, IWD Dalziel, EC Kendrick, SA Konfal, MJ Willis, DA Pinon, SR Cimbaro and D Caccamise (2015), Virtual array beamforming of GPS TEC observations of coseismic ionospheric disturbances near the Geomagnetic South Pole triggered by teleseismic megathrusts. J. Geophys. Res.-Space Phys. Version: 1 120 (10) 9087-9101, issn: 2169-9380, ids: CY0ZI, doi: 10.1002/2015JA021725
  • Willis, MJ, AK Melkonian and ME Pritchard (2015), Outlet glacier response to the 2012 collapse of the Matusevich Ice Shelf, Severnaya Zemlya, Russian Arctic. J. Geophys. Res.-Earth Surf. Version: 1 120 (10) 2040-2055, issn: 2169-9003, ids: CW3FE, doi: 10.1002/2015JF003544
  • Willis, MJ, BG Herried, MG Bevis and RE Bell (2015), Recharge of a subglacial lake by surface meltwater in northeast Greenland. Nature Version: 1 518 (7538) 223-U165, issn: 0028-0836, ids: CA8SD, doi: 10.1038/nature14116, PubMed ID: 25607355
  • Proctor, RA and MJ Willis (2015), Semistandard tableaux for Demazure characters (key polynomials) and their atoms. Eur. J. Comb. Version: 1 43 172-184, issn: 0195-6698, ids: AU7XK, doi: 10.1016/j.ejc.2014.08.022
  • Melkonian, AK, MJ Willis and ME Pritchard (2014), Satellite-derived volume loss rates and glacier speeds for the Juneau Icefield, Alaska. J. Glaciol. Version: 1 60 (222) 743-760, issn: 0022-1430, ids: AR0OV, doi: 10.3189/2014JoG13J181
  • Melkonian, AK, MJ Willis, ME Pritchard, A Rivera, F Bown and SA Bernstein (2013), Satellite-derived volume loss rates and glacier speeds for the Cordillera Darwin Icefield, Chile. Cryosphere Version: 1 7 (3) 823-839, issn: 1994-0416, ids: 174GX, doi: 10.5194/tc-7-823-2013
  • Willis, MJ, AK Melkonian, ME Pritchard and A Rivera (2012), Ice loss from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, South America, between 2000 and 2012. Geophys. Res. Lett. Version: 1 39 , Art. No. L17501, issn: 0094-8276, ids: 003CK, doi: 10.1029/2012GL053136
  • Bevis, M, J Wahr, SA Khan, FB Madsen, A Brown, M Willis, E Kendrick, P Knudsen, JE Box, T van Dam, DJ Caccamise, B Johns, T Nylen, R Abbott, S White, J Miner, R Forsberg, H Zhou, J Wang, T Wilson, D Bromwich and O Francis (2012), Bedrock displacements in Greenland manifest ice mass variations, climate cycles and climate change. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. Version: 1 109 (30) 11944-11948, issn: 0027-8424, ids: 981TD, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1204664109, PubMed ID: 22786931
  • Willis, MJ, AK Melkonian, ME Pritchard and JM Ramage (2012), Ice loss rates at the Northern Patagonian Icefield derived using a decade of satellite remote sensing. Remote Sens. Environ. Version: 1 117 184-198, issn: 0034-4257, ids: 894WX, doi: 10.1016/j.rse.2011.09.017
  • Barnhart, WD, MJ Willis, RB Lohman and AK Melkonian (2011), InSAR and Optical Constraints on Fault Slip during the 2010-2011 New Zealand Earthquake Sequence. Seismol. Res. Lett. Version: 1 82 (6) 815-823, issn: 0895-0695, ids: 841VX, doi: 10.1785/gssrl.82.6.815