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The University of Southampton
Geography and Environmental Science

Research project: High-resolution and Spatially-distributed Surface Roughness Estimation for Glacier Mass Balance Modelling Using Terrestrial Laser Scanning

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Predicting glacier melt accurately is vital for understanding how climate change may impact regional water resources and sea level change.

Measuring aerodynamic and surface roughness at Svinafell Glacier, Iceland, July 2011
Measuring at Svinafell Glacier

Melting is predicted by determining radiative and turbulent heat fluxes at the glacier surface. The theoretical basis for modelling these fluxes is well understood, but prediction is hampered by difficulties in parameterising key controlling factors at high spatial resolution. Surface roughness in particular has a strong influence on turbulent heat exchange, but measurement is problematic. This project uses TLS to determine the changing topography of a melting glacier. Crucially, TLS delivers topographic data of unprecedented precision and spatial resolution, enabling surface roughness to be obtained via statistical analysis of the measured elevation. Concurrent measurements of aerodynamic roughness heights have also been derived from analysis of vertical wind velocity profiles obtained using anemometer towers for comparison to the surface based measurements.

This study will expand current knowledge of the way in which spatial variations in surface topography influence aerodynamic roughness and its contribution to glacial energy budgets and ablation. Improved parameterisation of roughness will thus aid mass balance modelling. Moreover, the technique is transferable, and World University Network funded work is currently underway in collaboration with Giles Wiggs, James King (University of Oxford) and Frank Eckardt (University of Cape Town) to assess the relationship between salt pan surface roughness and aerodynamic roughness to improve dust emissivity predictions.

Funding: Royal Society; EPSRC

Measuring surface roughness and dust flux at Sua Pan, Botswana, August 2011
Measuring at Sua Pan, Botswana

Related research groups

Earth Surface Dynamics
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