Sarah Thompson

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Sarah Thompson

Research Associate

Room 317.19 , IMAS Salamanca

Dr Sarah Thompson is a Research Associate in glaciology as part of the Australian Antarctic Program Partnership at the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies. She is interested in hazards associated with ice shelves, glaciers and snowpacks in a changing climate. Particularly in developing and adapting approaches to allow the prediction of change in the natural environment, and the assessment of risk to society on a local and global scale. Her current research focuses on developing remote and field-based techniques to investigate ice shelf stability and glacier crevasse detection for both scientific and field safety applications.


Prior to her position at IMAS, Sarah attained two post-doctoral research fellowships, a Marie Curie Intra European Fellowship working at the University Centre in Svalbard (Norway) focussed on investigating hazards on downwasting debris-covered glaciers in the Himalayas, providing an improved methodology for glacial lake outburst flood risk assessments in mountainous regions. More recently an AXA Postdoctoral Fellowship based Swansea University (UK), to investigate Antarctic ice-shelves stability through a first-order vulnerability analysis for likelihood of Pan-Antarctic ice-shelf disintegration, ranking ice-shelves in probability of collapse and potential magnitude contribution to sea level rise. Sarah worked as a post-doctoral researcher at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, investigating the transport and release mechanisms of Persistent Organic Pollutants from retreating Alpine glaciers and developing new approaches to investigate snow hydrology, improving understanding of the risks associated with wet snow avalanches. At the University of Innsbruck (Austria) Sarah worked with high-resolution tri-stereo imagery and digital elevation models to investigating the role of avalanched snow to glacier mass change and developing cold lab geophysical surveys to improve interpretation of field-based, on-ice, geophysical data. Sarah completed her PhD at the University of Swansea in 2012, focusing on early recognition and mitigation of glacial lake outburst hazards in the Himalayas.

Career summary



A novel integrated assessment of the formation and evolution of hazardous moraine-dammed glacial lakes.

Swansea University



MSc by Research

Energy balance modelling with moderate input  data: Development and testing on the Griesgletscher, Switzerland.

University of Edinburgh



BSc (1st Class Hons)

The relationship between climatic variation and glacial volume change: Massif du Mont Blanc, European Alps.

University of Edinburgh



Languages (other than English)

French: Conversational

German: Basic

Spanish: A level


Professional practice

International Geographical Society (IGS),

American Geophysical Union (AGU),

European Geophysical Union (EGU),

Royal Geographical Society (RGS)

Administrative expertise

Sarah is co-project leader for the Australian Antarctic Project Partnership’s ice shelves project.


Glaciology; Applied geophysics; Optical and radar remote sensing; GIS

Teaching expertise

Sarah is committed to research-led teaching, particularly focusing on glacier and ice shelf response to climate change and glacial geophysics. Sarah has been a co-course convener of a field-focused postgraduate level course Arctic Glaciers and Landscapes at the University centre in Svalbard (UNIS) which has been running since 2017. Since 2014 Sarah participated in teaching and mentoring of both undergraduate and postgraduate students at UNIS, including the development of resourses and teaching on glacial change, glacial geophysics and Himalayan glaciers as part of the postgraduate courses Glaciology and Snow and Ice Dynamics. In addition, she has contributed to undergraduate courses in Glaciology and Approaches to Physical Geography at Swansea University, UK.

Research Appointments

2019-Present - Research Associate, Australian Antarctic Program Partnership, Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, Tasmania, Australia

2019-2020 – Research Associate, Antarctic Gateway Partnership, Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, Tasmania, Australia

2017-2019 – AXA Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Swansea University, Wales, UK

2016-2017 - Research Associate, University of Innsbruck, Austria

2014-2016 – Marie Curie Research Fellow, University Centre in Svalbard, Svalbard

2013-2014 - Postdoctoral Research Associate, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH), Zurich, Switzerland

View more on Dr Sarah Thompson in WARP



Antarctic ice shelves

Remote sensing of the cryosphere

Applied cryospheric geophysics

Mountain glaciers

Glacial lake outburst floods

Research Themes

Sarah’s research focus aligns with the University’s research theme of Marine, Antarctic and Maritime. To date she has applied her expertise to a number of glaciological questions, including the investigation of (i) the role of ice fractures and suture zone in ice shelf stability in East Antarctica, (ii) ice shelf hydrology and dynamics in East Antarctica, (iii) mass balance change on both clean ice and debris covered glaciers in the European Alps, Himalayas and Svalbard, (iv) the response of debris covered glaciers to climate change with implications for flood risk and water scarcity, (v) snow pack hydrology and wet snow avalanche prediction in the European Alps and (vi) the structural and geotechnical properties of glacial moraine dams.

Her current research focuses on ice shelves and their role in the contribution of the East Antarctic ice sheet to future sea level rise. She uses remote, airborne and field data to investigate factors affecting ice shelf stability, particularly characterising ice fracture and snow and ice properties. Over the last two years she has been testing a number of integrated methods to compliment and improve existing approaches to crevasse detection, trailing a new helicopter-mounted radar system used in combination with satellite radar data and ground-based measurements. Working closely with the Australian Antarctic Division, Sarah has been conducting operational trials with the new system, focusing on field safety and scientific applications in the upper few hundred metres of firn and ice. Sarah is also working on developing approaches to improve interpretation of field-based geophysical measurements, with a current focus on time-domain reflectometry of marine ice cores to improve analysis of seismic and radar data collected over ice shelves and a view to future EM exploration of suture zones.

Sarah has carried out extensive field campaigns in Antarctica, Svalbard, the European Alps and the Himalayas, successfully implementing a suite of surveys and techniques, a number of which were applied in these environments for the first time, including, electrical resistivity tomography, self-potential, ground-based and airborne ground penetrating radar, passive seismic, sonar, dGPS mapping, mass balance measurements and speleological investigations. For many of the expeditions she lead not only the scientific aspects of the work but also organised all planning and logistics, managing each with carefully thought out risk assessments, realistic goals and detailed financial management to ensure the safety of all participants and the fulfilment of the project aims.


Sarah is currently involved in a number of international research projects aimed at better understanding changes in Antarctic ice shelves and glaciers and their role in buttressing the Antarctic ice sheet. These projects involve collaboration between a number of universities and research institutes across Europe, North America and Asia.

Current projects

Australian Antarctic Program Partnership - Project 3 – Ice shelves

Helicopter trials of ground penetrating radar of glaciers

The International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration – GHOST

Outlet Glacier Dynamics in Princess Elizabeth Land, East Antarctica

Fields of Research

  • Glaciology (370902)
  • Electrical and electromagnetic methods in geophysics (370602)
  • Natural hazards (370903)
  • Gravimetrics (370606)
  • Photogrammetry and remote sensing (401304)
  • Geodynamics (370604)
  • Applied geophysics (370601)

Research Objectives

  • Natural hazards (190499)
  • Effects of climate change on Antarctic and sub-Antarctic environments (excl. social impacts) (190503)
  • Expanding knowledge in the earth sciences (280107)
  • Climate change mitigation strategies (190301)
  • Antarctic and Southern Ocean ice dynamics (180401)
  • Effects of climate change on Australia (excl. social impacts) (190504)


Total publications


Journal Article

(14 outputs)
2023Cook S, Nicholls KW, Vankova I, Thompson SS, Galton-Fenzi BK, 'Data initiatives for ocean-driven melt of Antarctic ice shelves', Annals of Glaciology pp. 1-6. ISSN 1727-5644 (2023) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.1017/aog.2023.6 [eCite] [Details]

Co-authors: Cook S; Galton-Fenzi BK


2023Thompson SS, Kulessa B, Luckman A, Halpin JA, Greenbaum JS, et al., 'Glaciological history and structural evolution of the Shackleton Ice Shelf system, East Antarctica, over the past 60 years', Cryosphere, 17, (1) pp. 157-174. ISSN 1994-0416 (2023) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.5194/tc-17-157-2023 [eCite] [Details]

Co-authors: Kulessa B; Halpin JA


2021Rowan AV, Nicholson LI, Quincey DJ, Gibson MJ, Irvine-Fynn TDL, et al., 'Seasonally stable temperature gradients through supraglacial debris in the Everest region of Nepal, Central Himalaya', Journal of Glaciology, 67, (261) pp. 170-181. ISSN 0022-1430 (2021) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.1017/jog.2020.100 [eCite] [Details]

Citations: Scopus - 14Web of Science - 14


2020Thompson SS, Cook S, Kulessa B, Winberry JP, Fraser AD, et al., 'Comparing satellite and helicopter-based methods for observing crevasses, application in East Antarctica', Cold Regions Science and Technology, 178 Article 103128. ISSN 0165-232X (2020) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.1016/j.coldregions.2020.103128 [eCite] [Details]

Citations: Scopus - 9Web of Science - 8

Co-authors: Cook S; Kulessa B; Fraser AD; Galton-Fenzi BK


2019Kulessa b, Booth AD, O'Leary M, McGrath D, King EC, et al., 'Seawater softening of suture zones inhibits fracture propagation in Antarctic ice shelves', Nature Communications, 10, (1) Article 5491. ISSN 2041-1723 (2019) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-13539-x [eCite] [Details]

Citations: Scopus - 9Web of Science - 8


2017Benn DI, Thompson S, Gulley J, Mertes J, Luckman A, et al., 'Structure and evolution of the drainage system of a Himalayan debris-covered glacier, and its relationship with patterns of mass loss', Cryosphere, 11 pp. 2247-2264. ISSN 1994-0416 (2017) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.5194/tc-11-2247-2017 [eCite] [Details]

Citations: Scopus - 46Web of Science - 48


2017Mertes JR, Gulley JD, Benn DI, Thompson SS, Nicholson LI, 'Using structure-from-motion to create glacier DEMs and orthoimagery from historical terrestrial and oblique aerial imagery', Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 42, (14) pp. 2350-2364. ISSN 0197-9337 (2017) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.1002/esp.4188 [eCite] [Details]

Citations: Scopus - 44Web of Science - 40


2017Mertes JR, Thompson SS, Booth AD, Gulley JD, Benn DI, 'A conceptual model of supra-glacial lake formation on debris-covered glaciers based on GPR facies analysis', Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 42, (6) pp. 903-914. ISSN 0197-9337 (2017) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.1002/esp.4068 [eCite] [Details]

Citations: Scopus - 37Web of Science - 32


2017Thompson SS, Kulessa B, Benn DI, Mertes JR, 'Anatomy of terminal moraine segments and implied lake stability on Ngozumpa Glacier, Nepal, from electrical resistivity tomography (ERT)', Scientific Reports, 7 Article 46766. ISSN 2045-2322 (2017) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.1038/srep46766 [eCite] [Details]

Citations: Scopus - 10Web of Science - 8


2016Thompson SS, Benn DI, Mertes J, Luckman A, 'Stagnation and mass loss on a Himalayan debris-covered glacier: processes, patterns and rates', Journal of Glaciology, 62, (233) pp. 467-485. ISSN 0022-1430 (2016) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.1017/jog.2016.37 [eCite] [Details]

Citations: Scopus - 101Web of Science - 96


2016Thompson SS, Kulessa B, Essery RLH, Luthi MP, 'Bulk meltwater flow and liquid water content of snowpacks mapped using the electrical self-potential (SP) method', Cryosphere, 10 pp. 433-444. ISSN 1994-0416 (2016) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.5194/tc-10-433-2016 [eCite] [Details]

Citations: Scopus - 8Web of Science - 8


2012Benn DI, Bolch T, Hands K, Gulley J, Luckman A, et al., 'Response of debris-covered glaciers in the Mount Everest region to recent warming, and implications for outburst flood hazards', Earth Science Reviews, 114, (1-2) pp. 156-174. ISSN 0012-8252 (2012) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.1016/j.earscirev.2012.03.008 [eCite] [Details]

Citations: Scopus - 389Web of Science - 358


2012Thompson S, Kulessa B, Luckman A, 'Integrated electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) and self-potential (SP) techniques for assessing hydrological processes within glacial lake moraine dams', Journal of Glaciology, 58, (211) pp. 849-858. ISSN 0022-1430 (2012) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.3189/2012JoG11J235 [eCite] [Details]

Citations: Scopus - 29Web of Science - 26


2012Thompson SS, Benn DI, Dennis K, Luckman A, 'A rapidly growing moraine-dammed glacial lake on Ngozumpa Glacier, Nepal', Geomorphology, 145-146 pp. 1-11. ISSN 0169-555X (2012) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2011.08.015 [eCite] [Details]

Citations: Scopus - 69Web of Science - 68



(1 outputs)
2017Thompson S, 'Book review: Climate Change, Glacier Response, and Vegetation Dynamics in the Himalaya: Contributions toward Future Earth Initiatives', The Holocene, 27, (8) pp. 1260-1261. ISSN 0959-6836 (2017) [Review Single Work]

DOI: 10.1177/0959683617712827 [eCite] [Details]


Conference Publication

(1 outputs)
2019Kulessa B, Key K, Thompson S, Siegert M, 'Heat and groundwater transport between the Antarctic Ice Sheet and subglacial sedimentary basins from electromagnetic geophysical measurements', SEG Technical Program Expanded Abstracts, 15-20 September 2019, San Antonio, USA, pp. 4819-4823. ISSN 1052-3812 (2019) [Refereed Conference Paper]

DOI: 10.1190/segam2019-3215566.1 [eCite] [Details]


Grants & Funding

Sarah attained two prestigious Post-Doctoral Fellowships, an AXA Research Fund Post-Doctoral Fellowship of $212 000 over 24 months to investigate Ice shelf control of Antarctic’s sea level rise contribution over the 21st century and a Marie Curie Intra European Fellowship of $350 000 over 24 months to investigate Subsurface conditions in Himalayan glaciers with implications for outburst flood risk prediction and mitigation.

Sarah has also attained several grants to support fieldwork in the Himalayas, including a National Geographic Society / Waitt Grant for $21 000 to support fieldwork focusing on catastrophic lake drainage and hazard evolution in the Khumbu Himal, Nepal and a Royal Geographical Society with IBG Geographical Fieldwork Grant of $2000 to support a geophysical assessment of hydrological processes and their role in glacial lake outburst floods.

Funding Summary

Number of grants


Total funding



Testing of AAD drill (2023)$68,182
AAD have need to purchase a light weight and portable hot water drill and supporting infrastructure capable of drilling through the Denman Ice Shelf and undertaking oceanographic and geological sampling through the borehole. AAD requires a drill capable of being deployed and recovered with helicopter and able to be used by a relatively small team (2-3 pax), yielding a borehole that is sufficiently wide (> 200 mm) for instrumentation deployments, and up to 400 m deep. Given the time constrains, the AAD has commenced purchase of the winch (spool and sheave) with two spools, including aluminium freight cases and straps for winch via ABLE Engineering. They are the only company that supply the components to our requirements. Also given the time constraints AAPP (Sarah Thompson) is the only group in Australia capable of being able to source the other off-the-shelf components (value of up to AUD$70,000, incl GST), and facilitate the integration and testing of the unit needed to prepare its use for the 2023/24 Denman field season. Dr Sarah Thompson, has previous experience with a near identical system from the same provider and therefore has the expertise needed to integrate and use the ABLE Engineering HWD base, for the upcoming 2023/24 field season.AAPP has the direct expertise and experience developing bespoke instrumentation suites designed for remote deployments in harsh Antarctic conditions.
Australian Antarctic Division ($68,182)
Contract Research
Administered By
University of Tasmania
Research Team
Thompson SS; Galton-Fenzi B
AAPP GNSS installations (2022)$90,910
The AAD has a requirement for four instruments systems to monitor glacier flow and sea level with integrated remote power and telemetry technology (GNSS installations). The GNSS installations are needed for preparation for deployment in field season 22/23. The units will measure the flow rates and vertical changes in ice shelf melting and test the applications of GNSS reflectometry techniques for measurements of sea surface height. AAPP has the direct expertise and experience developing bespoke instrumentation suites designed for remote deployments in harsh Antarctic conditions.
Australian Antarctic Division ($90,910)
Contract Research
Administered By
University of Tasmania
Research Team
Galton-Fenzi B; Thompson SS; Cook SJ; Newlands JW

Research Supervision

Sarah has co-supervised several students at international institutions, all working within the fields of glaciology, snowpack hydrology and applied geophysics.




PhDPhysical Features in High Resolution East Antarctic Ice Cores and Their Relationship to Regional Atmospheric Circulation and Precipitation2021
PhDCharacterising Ice Shelf Fractures from the Micro to the Macro-scale2022