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 am also working on deciphering the processes involved with cascading hazards. These occur when one type of disaster spawns a chain of other hazards. For example, a wildfire on a mountainside may lead to a landslide which may block a river which may pose a flood hazard. My "4D-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, thawing and eroding permafrost, and seismic events. These processes have a direct impact on society. 


Current Research

I work on a diverse range of Earth Science projects, most of which apply 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 continue to work on a project 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. My students and I continue to work on the POLENET and ArcticDEM projects to refine recent ice histories and Earth rheological models for both Greenland and Antarctica.

Beyond my polar activities, I am working to map coastal megacities around the planet at very high resolution in order to examine geomorphological changes and inundation risks driven by sea level change. I am part of an interdisciplinary NASA-funded project to examine how wildfires, landslides, and flooding risks interact and are triggered. My drone-equipped laboratory examines how processes and mechanisms of topographic change are linked across different scales, with an increasingly broad focus on the role of hydrology of glaciers, ice sheets, alpine, and urban areas.

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

  • Pitcher, LH; Smith, LC; Cooley, SW; Zaino, A; Carlson, R; Pettit, J; Gleason, CJ; Minear, JT; Fayne, JV; Willis, MJ; Hansen, JS; Easterday, KJ; Harlan, ME; Langhorst, T; Topp, SN; Dolan, W; Kyzivat, ED; Pietroniro, A; Marsh, P; Yang, DQ; Carter, T; Onclin, C; Hosseini, N; Wilcox, E; Moreira, D; Berge-Nguyen, M; Cretaux, JF; Pavelsky, TM (2020), Advancing Field-Based GNSS Surveying for Validation of Remotely Sensed Water Surface Elevation Products. Version: 1 FRONTIERS IN EARTH SCIENCE 8 , Art. No. 278, doi: 10.3389/feart.2020.00278
  • Hamlington, BD; Gardner, AS; Ivins, E; Lenaerts, JTM; Reager, JT; Trossman, DS; Zaron, ED; Adhikari, S; Arendt, A; Aschwanden, A; Beckley, BD; Bekaert, DPS; Blewitt, G; Caron, L; Chambers, DP; Chandanpurkar, HA; Christianson, K; Csatho, B; Cullather, RI; DeConto, RM; Fasullo, JT; Frederikse, T; Freymueller, JT; Gilford, DM; Girotto, M; Hammond, WC; Hock, R; Holschuh, N; Kopp, RE; Landerer, F; Larour, E; Menemenlis, D; Merrifield, M; Mitrovica, JX; Nerem, RS; Nias, IJ; Nieves, V; Nowicki, S; Pangaluru, K; Piecuch, CG; Ray, RD; Rounce, DR; Schlegel, NJ; Seroussi, H; Shirzaei, M; Sweet, WV; Velicogna, I; Vinogradova, N; Wahl, T; Wiese, DN; Willis, MJ (2020), Understanding of Contemporary Regional Sea-Level Change and the Implications for the Future. Version: 1 REVIEWS OF GEOPHYSICS 58 (3) , Art. No. e2019RG000672, issn: 8755-1209, doi: 10.1029/2019RG000672, PubMed ID: 32879921
  • Perkins, JP; Finnegan, NJ; de Silva, SL; Willis, MJ (2019), Controls on Eolian Landscape Evolution in Fractured Bedrock. Version: 1 GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS 46 (21) 12012-12020, issn: 0094-8276, doi: 10.1029/2019GL083955
  • Thomas, JL; Stutz, J; Frey, MM; Bartels-Rausch, T; Altieri, K; Baladima, F; Browse, J; DallOsto, M; Marelle, L; Mouginot, J; Jennifer, GM; Nomura, D; Pratt, KA; Willis, MD; Zieger, P; Abbatt, J; Douglas, TA; Facchini, MC; France, J; Jones, AE; Kim, K; Matrai, PA; McNeill, VF; Saiz-Lopez, A; Shepson, P; Steiner, N; Law, KS; Arnold, SR; Delille, B; Schmale, J; Sonke, JE; Dommergue, A; Voisin, D; Melamed, ML; Gier, J (2019), Fostering multidisciplinary research on interactions between chemistry, biology, and physics within the coupled cryosphere-atmosphere system. Version: 1 ELEMENTA-SCIENCE OF THE ANTHROPOCENE 7 , Art. No. 58, issn: 2325-1026, doi: 10.1525/elementa.396
  • Brideau, MA; Shugar, DH; Bevington, AR; Willis, MJ; Wong, C (2019), Evolution of the 2014 Vulcan Creek landslide-dammed lake, Yukon, Canada, using field and remote survey techniques. Version: 1 LANDSLIDES 16 (10) 1823-1840, issn: 1612-510X, doi: 10.1007/s10346-019-01199-3
  • Shugar, DH; Colorado, KA; Clague, JJ; Willis, MJ; Best, JL (2019), Boundary: mapping and visualizing climatically changed landscapes at Kaskawulsh Glacier and Kluane Lake, Yukon. Version: 1 JOURNAL OF MAPS 15 (3) 19-30, issn: 1744-5647, doi: 10.1080/17445647.2018.1467349
  • Macdonald, GJ; Banwell, AF; Willis, IC; Mayer, DP; Goodsell, B; MacAyeal, DR (2019), Formation of pedestalled, relict lakes on the McMurdo Ice Shelf, Antarctica. Version: 1 JOURNAL OF GLACIOLOGY 65 (250) 337-343, issn: 0022-1430, doi: 10.1017/jog.2019.17
  • Bevis, M; Harig, C; Khan, SA; Brown, A; Simons, FJ; Willis, M; Fettweis, X; van den Broeke, MR; Madsen, FB; Kendrick, E; Caccamise, DJ; van Dam, T; Knudsen, P; Nylen, T (2019), Accelerating changes in ice mass within Greenland, and the ice sheets sensitivity to atmospheric forcing. Version: 1 PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 116 (6) 1934-1939, issn: 0027-8424, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1806562116, PubMed ID: 30670639
  • Macayeal, DR; Banwell, AF; Okal, EA; Lin, JQ; Willis, IC; Goodsell, B; MacDonald, GJ (2019), Diurnal seismicity cycle linked to subsurface melting on an ice shelf. Version: 1 ANNALS OF GLACIOLOGY 60 (79) 137-157, issn: 0260-3055, 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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 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
  • 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, 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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 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
  • 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
  • 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