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

Michael Willis

Research Interests

I am an assistant professor of geodesy and remote sensing rostered in the department of geologcial sciences. I an expert on time-varying topography. I blend fieldwork with geodetic and remote sensing tools, and big-data to answer questions about the contribution of land based ice to sea level change, geodynamics, the evolution of megacities and landslides, earthquakes and volcano hazards. I am focused upon how problems scale both spatially and temporally and how computer vision algorithms can be applied to geophysical problems. I've published more than 30 peer reviewed papers on a wide range of subjects and was central to the success of the ArcticDEM project. Products from ArcticDEM have been downloaded more than 7 million times and resulted in more than 70 papers. I've worked for 13 field seasons on GNSS geodesy projects in polar regions and designed the network configurations and the equipment for POLENET and GNET. I enjoy collaborations and answering big societally relevant questions.


Teaching Profile

I teach classes on the Cryosphere and Natural Hazards in the department of geological sciences.

Current Research

My students and I are currently working on projects looking at:

  • Inundation threats at coastal cities around the globe.
  • Surface elevation changes of glaciers and ice sheets.
  • The elastic response of the crust to load changes.
  • Calibration and validation of satellite laser altimetry.
  • Automatic identification of post-earthquake landslides.
  • Leveraging machine learning and computer vision to understand volcanoes and landslides
  • Tsunami warning systems and GNSS reflectometry.

View Publications

  • Pitcher LH; Smith LC; Cooley SW; Zaino A; Carlson R; Pettit J; Gleason CJ; Minear JT; Fayne JV; Willis MJ. (Nov 2020). Advancing Field-Based GNSS Surveying for Validation of Remotely Sensed Water Surface Elevation Products. Frontiers in Earth Science , 8. 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. (Sep 2020). Understanding of Contemporary Regional Sea-Level Change and the Implications for the Future. Reviews of Geophysics , 58(3). 10.1029/2019RG000672
  • Perkins, JP; Finnegan, NJ; de Silva, SL; Willis, MJ. (16-Nov 2019). Controls on Eolian Landscape Evolution in Fractured Bedrock. GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, 46(21), 12012-12020. 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. (30-Dec 2019). Fostering multidisciplinary research on interactions between chemistry, biology, and physics within the coupled cryosphere-atmosphere system. ELEMENTA-SCIENCE OF THE ANTHROPOCENE, 7. 10.1525/elementa.396
  • Brideau, MA; Shugar, DH; Bevington, AR; Willis, MJ; Wong, C. (OCT 2019). Evolution of the 2014 Vulcan Creek landslide-dammed lake, Yukon, Canada, using field and remote survey techniques. LANDSLIDES, 16(10), 1823-1840. 10.1007/s10346-019-01199-3
  • Shugar, DH; Colorado, KA; Clague, JJ; Willis, MJ; Best, JL. (20-Nov 2019). Boundary: mapping and visualizing climatically changed landscapes at Kaskawulsh Glacier and Kluane Lake, Yukon. JOURNAL OF MAPS, 15(3), 19-30. 10.1080/17445647.2018.1467349
  • Macdonald, GJ; Banwell, AF; Willis, IC; Mayer, DP; Goodsell, B; MacAyeal, DR. (APR 2019). Formation of pedestalled, relict lakes on the McMurdo Ice Shelf, Antarctica. JOURNAL OF GLACIOLOGY, 65(250), 337-343. 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. (5-Feb 2019). Accelerating changes in ice mass within Greenland, and the ice sheets sensitivity to atmospheric forcing. PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 116(6), 1934-1939. 10.1073/pnas.1806562116
  • Macayeal, DR; Banwell, AF; Okal, EA; Lin, JQ; Willis, IC; Goodsell, B; MacDonald, GJ. (SEP 2019). Diurnal seismicity cycle linked to subsurface melting on an ice shelf. ANNALS OF GLACIOLOGY, 60(79), 137-157. 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. (15-Nov 2018). Massive destabilization of an Arctic ice cap. EARTH AND PLANETARY SCIENCE LETTERS, 502, 146-155. 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. (6-Sep 2018). The 2015 landslide and tsunami in Taan Fiord, Alaska. SCIENTIFIC REPORTS, 8. 10.1038/s41598-018-30475-w
  • 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. (22-Jun 2018). Observed rapid bedrock uplift in Amundsen Sea Embayment promotes ice-sheet stability. SCIENCE, 360(6395), 1335-+. 10.1126/science.aao1447
  • Zheng, W, ME Pritchard, MJ Willis, P Tepes, N Gourmelen, TJ Benham and JA Dowdeswell. (15-Jun 2018). Accelerating glacier mass loss on Franz Josef Land, Russian Arctic. REMOTE SENSING OF ENVIRONMENT, 211, 357-375. 10.1016/j.rse.2018.04.004
  • Berthier, E, C Larsen, WJ Durkin, MJ Willis and ME Pritchard. (27-Apr 2018). Brief communication: Unabated wastage of the Juneau and Stikine icefields (southeast Alaska) in the early 21st century. CRYOSPHERE, 12(4), 1523-1530. 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. (FEB 2018). Sedimentology and geomorphology of a large tsunamigenic landslide, Taan Fiord, Alaska. SEDIMENTARY GEOLOGY, 364, 302-318. 10.1016/j.sedgeo.2017.10.004
  • Durkin, WJ, TC Bartholomaus, MJ Willis and ME Pritchard. (3-Mar 2017). Dynamic Changes at Yahtse Glacier, the Most Rapidly Advancing Tidewater Glacier in Alaska. FRONTIERS IN EARTH SCIENCE, 5. 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. (12-Dec 2017). Direct measurements of meltwater runoff on the Greenland ice sheet surface. PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 114(50), E10622-E10631. 10.1073/pnas.1707743114
  • Shugar, DH, JJ Clague, JL Best, C Schoof, MJ Willis, L Copland and GH Roe. (MAY 2017). River piracy and drainage basin reorganization led by climate-driven glacier retreat. NATURE GEOSCIENCE, 10(5), 370-+. 10.1038/NGEO2932
  • Melkonian Andrew K., Willis Michael J., Pritchard Matthew E. (OCT 2016). Stikine Icefield Mass Loss between 2000 and 2013/2014. Front. Earth Sci., 4. 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. (SEP 2016). Geodetic measurements reveal similarities between post-Last Glacial Maximum and present-day mass loss from the Greenland ice sheet. SCIENCE ADVANCES, 2(9). 10.1126/sciadv.1600931
  • Larsen, SH, SA Khan, AP Ahlstrom, CS Hvidberg, MJ Willis and SB Andersen. (FEB 2016). Increased mass loss and asynchronous behavior of marine-terminating outlet glaciers at Upernavik IsstrOm, NW Greenland. JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH-EARTH SURFACE, 121(2), 241-256. 10.1002/2015JF003507
  • Melkonian, AK, MJ Willis, ME Pritchard and AJ Stewart. (1-Mar 2016). Recent changes in glacier velocities and thinning at Novaya Zemlya. REMOTE SENSING OF ENVIRONMENT, 174, 244-257. 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, 10(1), 15-27. 10.5194/tc-10-15-2016
  • Willis, MJ, BG Herried, MG Bevis and RE Bell. (12-Feb 2015). Recharge of a subglacial lake by surface meltwater in northeast Greenland. NATURE, 518(7538), 223-U165. 10.1038/nature14116
  • Willis, MJ, AK Melkonian and ME Pritchard. (OCT 2015). Outlet glacier response to the 2012 collapse of the Matusevich Ice Shelf, Severnaya Zemlya, Russian Arctic. JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH-EARTH SURFACE, 120(10), 2040-2055. 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. (OCT 2015). Virtual array beamforming of GPS TEC observations of coseismic ionospheric disturbances near the Geomagnetic South Pole triggered by teleseismic megathrusts. JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH-SPACE PHYSICS, 120(10), 9087-9101. 10.1002/2015JA021725
  • Melkonian, AK, MJ Willis and ME Pritchard. (2014). Satellite-derived volume loss rates and glacier speeds for the Juneau Icefield, Alaska. JOURNAL OF GLACIOLOGY, 60(222), 743-760. 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, 7(3), 823-839. 10.5194/tc-7-823-2013
  • Willis, MJ, AK Melkonian, ME Pritchard and JM Ramage. (15-Feb 2012). Ice loss rates at the Northern Patagonian Icefield derived using a decade of satellite remote sensing. REMOTE SENSING OF ENVIRONMENT, 117, 184-198. 10.1016/j.rse.2011.09.017
  • Willis, MJ, AK Melkonian, ME Pritchard and A Rivera. (5-Sep 2012). Ice loss from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, South America, between 2000 and 2012. GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, 39. 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. (24-Jul 2012). Bedrock displacements in Greenland manifest ice mass variations, climate cycles and climate change. PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 109(30), 11944-11948. 10.1073/pnas.1204664109
  • Barnhart, WD, MJ Willis, RB Lohman and AK Melkonian. (NOV-DEC 2011). InSAR and Optical Constraints on Fault Slip during the 2010-2011 New Zealand Earthquake Sequence. SEISMOLOGICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, 82(6), 815-823. 10.1785/gssrl.82.6.815