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

William Colgan



Student Type

Graduate Student

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Lobster tails, wine, and an IMAX view of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Even with the occasional frozen whiskey bottle, it’s not a bad place to land on your feet post CIRES graduation. That’s where William (Liam) Colgan (CIRES 2007-2011) finds himself today, as a Senior Researcher with the Programme for Monitoring of the Greenland Ice Sheet (PROMICE) at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Canadian born, Dr. Colgan found his way to CIRES after a serendipitous meeting with then-director Konrad Steffen. “Koni came to visit the research group in Canada where I was doing my Masters. The research presentation he gave, which seemed to be equal parts science and adventure, was eye-opening for me. We went out for beers afterwards, there were more stories about working in Greenland, and he invited me to look into the CIRES cryospheric program for a Ph.D. I did, and I thought, ‘I need to join these people.’”

Dr. Colgan arrived at the University of Colorado Boulder in 2007, earned his degree in the Geography Department. Dr. Colgan said he found that CIRES offered a multi-disciplinary social and intellectual experience. “I had wonderful colleagues from all these different departments. It was great to have such breadth close at hand, when you wanted to move a little outside your comfort area. It was also great to be in a research-focused institution; everyone in the CIRES building is there just to do or facilitate research, which makes it easy to learn the research trade.”

Mentors and advisors such as Dr. Steffen and current CIRES director Waleed Abdalati, offered motivation and a bottomless source of expertise in the field of cryospheric science, in particular, the study of climate change in relation to the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Today, Dr. Colgan travels annually to Greenland’s 2-million-square-kilometer icy landscape to study how ice dynamics—the form and flow of the ice sheet—is changing in response to climate change. In particular, he’s interested in how more surface melt—all the extra water that subsequently flows through the ice sheet—is changing how the ice actually deforms and flows into the ocean. “People like myself who study the Greenland or Antarctic Ice Sheets are looking at global climate change, how it’s affecting this huge piece of Earth, and ultimately how that is going to change sea level around the world.”

Dr. Colgan said he’d urge current and potential CIRES graduate students to take advantage of the unparalleled opportunities available at the institute. “The equipment, the travel, the people, and the projects are all world-class. You have colleagues who are technicians, research fellows, professional researchers, and professional research assistants… It’s a mature research environment and students have this opportunity to absorb that research lifestyle from everyone around them. I didn’t realize how much I had come to enjoy being at CIRES in Boulder until I went to look for somewhere to move next!”

Dr. Colgan has stayed in-touch with CIRES as an adjunct Research Associate since 2012.