Waterloo researcher wins CSA grant to explore rock avalanches caused by glacier ice loss

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Stephen Evans in Peru.Earth & Environmental Sciences Professor Stephen G. Evans (pictured in Cordillers Blanca, Peru) and postdoctoral fellow Keith Delaney and MSc student Madison Reid have won a 1-Year $50,000 proof-of-concept grant from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to explore the relationship between glacier ice loss and mountain slope deformation in the mountains of NW North America (Alaska, Yukon, and British Columbia).

Using archival Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data from Canada's RADARSAT-2 satellite, Evans and his team will carry out SAR interferometric analyses of selected sites in these areas to detect and quantify glacier ice loss and associated deformation of adjacent high mountain slopes.

By linking the magnitude and timing of these processes, Evans hopes to demonstrate the connection between climate change and mountain slope deformation. Glacier ice loss removes support from mountain rock slopes causing them to deform in slow-moving landslides, which can terminate in high-velocity, large-scale rock avalanches.

This is the first investigation of the response of mountain slopes to glacier ice loss in NW North America using InSAR techniques and the first to explore the linkage to catastrophic failure,” says Professor Evans, also a member of the Water Institute.  

The region has experienced a large number of catastrophic rock avalanches onto glacier surfaces since 1945.

Root Glacier, St. Elias National Park, Alaska.Root Glacier in St. Elias National Park (Credit: Tom Weber/Wikimedia Commons).

Madison Reid is supported by a newly-awarded NSERC Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship and the work complements Evans' NSERC Discovery Grant-funded research on rock avalanches in the glacial environment.

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