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Dr Alison Banwell, BSc, PhD

Dr Alison Banwell, BSc, PhD

Leverhulme/Newton Trust Early Career Research Fellow at the Scott Polar Research Institute



  • May 2015 - April 2018: Leverhulme/Newton Trust Early Career Fellow.
  • Oct 2013 - Sept 2016: Junior Research Fellow at St Catharine's College, Cambridge.
  • Jan 2013 - Sept 2013: Postdoctoral Research Scholar with Professor Douglas MacAyeal, Department of Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago.


  • Ph.D. Scott Polar Research Institute (St. Catharine's College), University of Cambridge, UK (2008-2012). Thesis: "The hydrology of the Greenland Ice Sheet". Funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council.
  • B.Sc. (Hons.) (First class) in Geology and Physical Geography, University of Edinburgh, UK (2004-2008).

Awards and grants

  • 2015: US National Science Foundation (NSF) Antarctic grant: 'Impact of Supraglacial Lakes on Ice-Shelf Stability' (September 1st 2015 – August 31st 2017, PI: Doug MacAyeal). $ 295,399. Named International Collaborator and Field Team Leader.
  • 2014: Leverhulme/Newton Trust Early Career Fellowship (1st May 2015 - 30th April 2018).
  • 2014: Antarctic Science Ltd. Bursary (£3,700)
  • 2013: 'Bowring' Junior Research Fellowship (stipendiary), St Catharine's College, Cambridge (1st October 2013 - 30th September 2016)
  • 2011: St Catharine's College (Cambridge), Graduate Prize for Distinction in Research.
  • 2011: Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge. Overall Winner at the University of Cambridge (£6,000).
  • 2011: Royal Geographical Society, Dudley Stamp Memorial Trust Grant (£500).
  • 2010: National Geographic Society (Committee for Research and Exploration), Young Explorer Grant (£3,000).
  • 2010: Svalbard Science Forum (SSF) Arctic Field Grant (£3,600).
  • 2010: International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) Network on Arctic Glaciology award for conference attendance and presentation.
  • 2009: University of Cambridge Roberts Fund. To support attendance of the AG-325 Glaciology course at UNIS, Svalbard.


The influence of hydrology on the dynamics of the Greenland Ice Sheet

Variations in Greenland ice velocities are driven by the dynamic response of the subglacial hydrologic system to variability in meltwater delivery from the surface to the bed via crevasses and moulins. This process was investigated during my PhD through the development of a high spatial and temporal resolution hydrological model. The model, which was applied to Paakitsoq (west Greenland), consists of three components: i) a surface energy-balance model to calculate melt; ii) a surface routing model to transport meltwater to moulins, or to surface depressions which fill to form lakes and then drain via fractures; and iii) a subglacial routing model to transport water at the ice sheet base and to calculate water pressures. My current work, in collaboration with Dr. Ian Hewitt (University of Oxford), Dr Neil Arnold and Dr Ian Willis, focuses on developing the subglacial model component so that changes in basal friction fields, and therefore ice dynamics, can be calculated in response to changes in subglacial water pressures.

Antarctic ice-shelf instability and break-up

Ice-shelf instability and break-up, as was exhibited by the Larsen B ice shelf in 2002, remains one of the most difficult glaciological processes to observe directly, and therefore to model accurately. It is, however, vital to do so because ice-shelf breakup has the potential to influence the buttressing controls on inland ice discharge, and thus to affect sea level. Several mechanisms of ice-shelf break-up have been proposed, including that which forms the central focus of my research: Surface lakes have the ability to introduce ice-shelf fractures in response to stress associated with the ice-shelf's flexure response to lake filling and draining. For Larsen B, these fractures resulted in a chain-reaction style drainage of >2500 surface lakes in the days prior to the 
ice-shelf's demise. To better understand this process, and to understand the environmental conditions that lead to ice-shelf instability, I am currently in the process of developing models of viscoelastic ice-shelf flexure and fracture, ultimately to be validated by field observations on the McMurdo Ice Shelf in the austral summers of 2015/2016 and 2016/2017. This work is in close collaboration with Prof. Doug MacAyeal (University of Chicago).

PhD supervision

  • Corinne Benedek (University of Cambridge), 2015 - present.
  • Andrew Williamson (University of Cambridge), "Supraglacial hydrology of the Greenland Ice Sheet", 2014 - present.
  • Grant Macdonald (University of Chicago), 2014 - present.


Peer-reviewed articles

  • Banwell, A. F. and MacAyeal, D. R. 2015, Ice-shelf fracture due to viscoelastic-flexure stress induced by fill/drain cycles of supraglacial lakes. Antarctic Science, doi: 10.1017/50954102015000292.
  • MacAyeal, D. R., Sergienko, O. V. and Banwell, A. F. 2015, A Model of Viscoelastic Ice-Shelf Flexure. Journal of Glaciology, 61(228), 635-645, doi: 10.3189/2015JoG14J169
  • Mayaud, J., Banwell, A. F., Arnold, N. S., and Willis, I. C. 2014, Modeling the response of subglacial drainage at Paakitsoq, W Greenland, to 21st century climate change, J. Geophysical Research - Earth Surface, 119, doi:10.1002/2014JF003271.
  • Arnold, N. S., Banwell, A. F., and Willis, I. C. 2014. High-resolution modelling of the seasonal evolution of surface water storage on the Greenland Ice Sheet, The Cryosphere., 8, 1149-1160, doi:10.5194/tc-8-1149-2014.
  • Anderson, B., Willis, I., Goodsell, B., Banwell, A. F., Owens, I., Mackintosh, A., and Lawson, W. 2014. Diurnal to decadal ice velocity and water pressure variations on Franz Josef Glacier (Ka Roimata O Hine Hukatere), New Zealand. Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine Research. 46(4), 919-932, doi:
  • Banwell, A. F., Cabellero, M., Arnold, N., Glasser, N., Cathles, L. M., MacAyeal, D., 2014. Supraglacial lakes on the Larsen B Ice Shelf, Antarctica, and Paakitsoq Region, Greenland: a comparative study. Annals of Glaciology, 55(66), 1-8, doi:10.3189/2014AoG66A049
  • Banwell, A. F., MacAyeal, D. R. and Sergienko, O. V. 2013. Break-up of the Larsen B Ice Shelf Triggered by Chain-Reaction Drainage of Supraglacial Lakes. Geophysical Research Letters. doi:10.1002/2013GL057694. Also mentioned in Nature (Anatomy of an Ice Shelf's Demise, Nature Research Highlights, 503 (441), doi:10.1038/503441d) and Eos Trans. AGU (Balcerak, E. 2014. Chain reaction led to breakup of Larsen B Ice Shelf, Eos Trans. AGU, 95(8), 76 doi: 10.1002/2014EO080009).
  • Tedesco, M., Willis, I., Hoffman, M., Banwell, A. F., Alexander, P. and Arnold, N. 2013. Ice dynamic response to two modes of surface lake drainage on the Greenland Ice Sheet. Environ. Res. Lett. 8 034007 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/034007
  • Banwell, A. F., Willis, I., and Arnold, N. 2013. Modeling subglacial water routing at Paakitsoq, W Greenland. Journal of Geophysical Research - Earth Surface. 118, doi:10.1002/jgrf.20093
  • Banwell, A. F., Arnold, N., Willis, I., Tedesco, M., and Ahlstrom, A. 2012. Modeling supraglacial water routing and lake filling on the Greenland Ice Sheet. Journal of Geophysical Research - Earth Surface 117, F0401 doi:10.1029/2012JF002393.
  • Banwell, A. F., Willis, I., Arnold, N., Messerli, A., Rye, C., and Ahlstrom, A. 2012. Calibration and validation of a high resolution surface mass balance model for Paakitsoq, west Greenland. Journal of Glaciology. 58(212), 1047–1062. doi:10.3189/2012JoG12J034
  • Gulley, J., Walthard, P., Martin, J., Banwell, A. F., Benn, D., and Catania, G. 2012 Seasonal evolution of dye trace breakthrough curves: the effects of changes in roughness. Journal of Glaciology. doi:10.3189/2012JoG11J115
  • Tedesco, M., Luthje, M., Steffen, K., Steiner, N., Fettweiss, X., Willis I, Bayou, N., Banwell, A. F. 2012. Measurement and modeling of ablation of the bottom of supraglacial lakes in Western Greenland. Geophysical Research Letters, L02502 doi:10.1029/2011GL049882.
  • Covington, M.D., Banwell, A. F., Gulley, J., Saar, M.O., Willis, I., Wicks, C.M. 2012. Quantifying the effects of glacier conduit geometry and recharge on proglacial hydrograph form. Journal of Hydrology. Vol. 414-415, p 59-71, doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2011.10.027.

Book contributions

  • Banwell, A., Antarctic Ice Sheet - east and west, in Thomas, D.S.G. (ed) Dictionary of Physical Geography, Wiley Blackwell, p. 27-28.
  • Banwell, A., Greenland Ice Sheet, in Thomas, D.S.G. (ed) Dictionary of Physical Geography, Wiley Blackwell, p. 249-250.
  • Banwell, A., Grounding line (grounding zone), in Thomas, D.S.G. (ed) Dictionary of Physical Geography, Wiley Blackwell, p. 251-252.


Undergraduate teaching:

  • Part IB supervisor: Physical and Environmental Geography II: Glacial Processes (2009 - present), and staff member on the Department of Geography field trip to Arolla, Switzerland (2010, 2013 and 2015).
  • Part II supervisor: Glacial Environments (2011 - present).

External activities

  • Member, International Glaciological Society
  • Member, American Geophysical Union
  • Member, European Geosciences Union
  • Fellow, Cambridge Philosophical Society (2015 - present)
  • Committee member, UK Polar Network (2009 - 2011)