Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences

Alison Banwell


CIRES Research Scientist III

Headshot of Alison Banwell
  • Ph.D. University of Cambridge (2013)
  • B.Sc. University of Edinburgh (2008)
Affiliated Department
Earth Science and Observation Center (ESOC)
Office Location
EKLC - S238

Research Interests

I am a glaciologist and Research Scientist III in the Earth Science and Observation Center (ESOC) at CIRES. My research interests revolve around investigating the impact of Earth's past and future climate on the cryosphere, with a particular focus on the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. I investigate controls of ice sheet melt, accumulation and dynamics, which are key to understanding global sea-level rise and feedbacks to the climate system. To do this, I use a multi-disciplinary approach integrating satellite remote-sensing, geospatial analysis, in-situ field observations, machine learning, and modeling. 

Current Research

My research predominantly focuses on the Earth's two largest ice sheets, Greenland and Antarctica, including their ice shelves, which for Antarctica in particular, have a crucial role in buttressing inland ice from flowing more rapidly into the ocean. As the planet warms in response to human-induced climate change, it is imperative that we better understand these dynamics in order to predict future rates of ice loss to the oceans.

Greenland Ice Sheet melt and hydrology: Ice dynamics and ice loss to oceans are strongly influenced by surface meltwater accessing the ice-sheet bed, sometimes due to rapid surface lake drainage events. Previously, I developed a physically-based coupled melt/hydrology model to simulate surface melting and the subsequent routing of meltwater under both current and future warming scenarios. Two field campaigns in Greenland provided data to constrain this model. Additionally, I employ remote-sensing techniques, such as satellite optical imagery, synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data, and digital elevation models, to track changes in surface hydrology automatically. For instance, we used statistical analysis to identify geophysical controls on rapid drainage events and applied a convolutional neural network to SAR data for automatic buried lake detection.

Antarctic ice shelf melt, hydrology and dynamics: Ice shelves, which are the floating extensions of glaciers on land, surround ~75% of Antarctica and have an important role in regulating the rate that inland glacier ice is lost to the ocean. Surface melting leads to dense networks of surface meltwater lakes, which periodically fill and drain, inducing stress changes that lead to large ice-shelf break-up events. To better understand these processes, my research has used a combination of modeling, in-situ field observations, and satellite remote-sensing techniques. For example, we simulated the rapid break-up of the Larsen B Ice Shelf in 2002 due to the chain-reaction style drainage of ~3000 lakes, and our subsequent NSF-funded project on the McMurdo Ice Shelf provided the first ever in-situ field observations of ice-shelf flexure in response to the filling and drainage of surface lakes. Most recently, we developed a new method to quantify Antarctic-wide ice-shelf surface melt volume by combining satellite microwave data and a sophisticated snow model. 

Research Categories


Visiting Fellow



2020 -


Invalid date


Invalid date

About CECA

CECA connects and creates a supportive environment for graduate students and postdocs who come from various academic units to do research in CIRES.