Cold war satellites help glacier research


View from mount Elbrus

View from Mount Elbrus, at 5150 m above sea level, the highest mountain in Europe. Taken by Stas Kutuzov

Maria Shahgedanova presented a summary of her research at yesterday’s research seminar.

Maria grew up in Moscow, Russia and studied meteorology at Moscow State University before completing a DPhil in climate science at the University of Oxford.  Among her research interests are the response of glaciers to climate change. The melting of glaciers will contribute to sea level rise and can impact on water resources for human populations especially in arid regions.

Maria’s research has focused on several locations in south-eastern Europe and northern and central Asia including extremely remote areas such as Polar Urals and Kodar Mountains where research is extremely limited. Using various techniques – analysis of aerial photographs and satellite imagery, ground surveys using Digital Global Positioning Systems (DGPS) and GIS, climate and glaciological modelling  – Maria and her colleagues increase the accuracy of our knowledge of glacier retreat showing that in northern Asia, glaciers lost between 20 and 40% of their area since the middle of the 20th Century.  Although glaciers are shrinking fast even in the coldest regions of Siberia, using satellite imagery the team discovered four glaciers in the remote Kodar Mountains in eastern Siberia which were not on the geographical maps before.

“One of the positive outcomes of the cold war is the extensive satellite cover of the former Soviet Union by US satellites providing us with a wealth of data” says Maria. “an now we work as an international, multi-disciplinary team including scientists from the UK, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Russia and Georgia.”

Maria’s current research project, DIOGENES – Dust Impacts on Glaciated Environments, looks at the effect of dust on glacier melt and geochemistry of glaciated environments. Dust reduces the albedo (reflectance) of glaciers and can increase melt rates. It also provides additional nutrients for the aquatic systems nourished by high-altitude glaciers and snow pack.

Read more about the DOIGENES project

Read more about Maria