My research is devoted to understanding the physics of glaciers and ice sheets. In particular, I am exploring the nature of ice flow instabilities that cause certain modern glaciers to exhibit extreme oscillations in flow rate and, during the last Ice Age, appear to have triggered rapid changes in global climate.
For more than three decades my graduate students and I conducted a long-term study of Trapridge Glacier, a surge-type glacier (i.e. oscillating flow rate) in the St. Elias Mountains of the Yukon Territory. The object of this field work, started in 1969 and completed in 2007, was to monitor the glacier as it passed through a complete surge cycle and, from these observations to determine the trigger mechanism for its surges. Our approach was to densely instrument the glacier bed with sensors that would permit year-round observation of mechanical and hydrological processes that are active near the ice-bed contact. We had more than 20 data loggers and 200 sensors in continuous operation and used satellite telemetry to ensure that no unusual activity escaped our notice. Part of the challenge and delight of this research is that there is little in the way of established instrumentation and methodologies to draw upon. Thus we invented and then fabricated many of the instruments that were central to our study.
A strongly complementary focus of our research is on using improved knowledge of ice sheet physics to construct computational models that simulate the dynamics of ancient and modern ice sheets. During the last glacial cycle, Northern Hemisphere ice sheets were an extremely influential component of the global climate system. Working in close collaboration with colleagues who are expert in modelling the dynamics of the ocean and atmosphere, we are attempting to unravel some secrets of the Ice Age and discover what factors account for the rapid and ugly surprises that characterized the Ice Age climate system.
B.Sc. (1963) University of Alberta M.A. (1964), University of Toronto Ph.D. (1967) University of Toronto
- Fellow, Arctic Institute of North America (1976)
- Fellow, Royal Society of Canada (1989)
- Fellow, American Geophysical Union (1996)
- Chair of Board of Governors, Arctic Institute of North America (1979)
- President, International Glaciological Society (1990-93)
- President, Canadian Geophysical Union (1993-95)
- Richardson Medal, International Glaciological Society (1998)
- Seligman Crystal, International Glaciological Society (2001)
- Canada Council Killam Research Fellowship (2001)
- Tuzo Wilson Medal, Canadian Geophysical Union (2003)
- Honorary Member, International Glaciological Society (2008)
- Faculty Member, UBC (since 1967)