British Antarctic Survey glaciologist Hamish Pritchard has won the 2023 Harry Otten Prize for Innovation in Meteorology. His idea, Lakes as snowfall sensors: solving the precipitation problem in the mountain cryosphere, proposes that lakes can be used as pressure-sensing surfaces to produce accurate observations of the water content of snowfall – simply, cheaply, autonomously, and over large areas.
With standard water-pressure sensors submerged on a lakebed, the mass of winter snow precipitation as it reaches the lake surface can be recorded, while avoiding biases that appear with other instruments that interact with snow as it falls or accumulates.
Hamish explained the importance of understanding changes to mountain glaciers: “For hundreds of millions of people, snow is a really important source of fresh water. When winter snow melts each year, the water allows crops to be grown through the spring and summer in the plains below. But snow is right on the frontline of climate change, so this water supply is changing fast and is under threat. To plan for these changes we need good climate models that get snowfall right, and for that, we need snowfall measurements that are more accurate and cover much larger areas than we currently have. This new lake method provides such measurements.”
The jury awarded the first prize of €25,000 during the Annual Meeting of the European Meteorological Society in Bratislava.
Hamish Pritchard, pictured on field work in the Himalayas (British Antarctic Survey)
Pam Emch, Chair of the Board of the Harry Otten Foundation, commented: “The idea put forward by Hamish Pritchard can help cost effectively address and improve the quantification of precipitation that falls as snow. An improvement in this measurement has applicability not only in meteorology, but also in water resources planning and management and could potentially be utilized for remote sensing instrumentation/observation calibration/validation.”
The jury received 18 applications for the prize with lead authors from at least 14 different countries in Europe, Africa, Australia, and the U.S.A. The Harry Otten Prize is awarded every two years.
The above photo shows a remote instrument set up on Signy Island to record and transmit measurements of lake water pressure. In winter we will use these to measure how much snow is falling on Signy, over an area much larger than is possible with conventional snow gauges. This is part of the SURFEIT project.
This story was originally published on the British Antarctic Survey website on 02/02/2023
Understanding ice loss from Antarctica and its contribution to global sea-level rise is a key ambition for SURFEIT
Researchers at British Antarctic Survey (BAS) will develop new and ambitious ideas to tackle critical global environmental challenges, such as global sea-level rise from Antarctica, thanks to new funding.
The investment from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has been awarded to BAS for the new science programme SURface FluxEs In AnTarctica (SURFEIT), to the value of £2.3m.
SURFEIT, led by BAS and working with international partners, will improve predictions of future global sea level rise that is driven by loss of ice from Antarctica. The specific focus is on interactions between the atmosphere and ice; the SURFEIT team will:
improve how polar clouds are represented in climate models;
use pre-existing, and new observations alongside climate model output to help improve the understanding of changes in snowfall over Antarctica;
ensure that small-scale and extreme-event weather changes in Antarctica can be accurately predicted;
improve how earth and ice system model components link together, so that better predictions can be made of when Antarctic ice may fracture, and so raise global sea level.
Dr Iain Williams, NERC Director of Strategic Partnerships, said:
“This exciting investment in internationally collaborative research programmes will significantly advance our understanding of the drivers and responses to global environmental change. Many of the environmental science challenges we face are global in nature and require an international and transboundary response. By bringing together expertise in earth, ecological, ocean, polar, and atmospheric sciences, from NERC’s research centres with colleagues from across the globe, we can develop understanding that will help us mitigate and adapt to the changes caused by global warming.”
The NERC National Capability International programme will focus on research excellence and global public good.