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€2 million for glacier research at WSL

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Professor Francesca Pellicciotti has been awarded a prestigious five-year Consolidator Grant by the European Research Council (ERC) for her research into glacier mass loss in High Mountain Asia. She has chosen the Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) as her host institution. Glaciers play an important role in the water supply of millions of people in South Asia.


As part of her project, Professor Pellicciotti will investigate the retreat of debris-covered glaciers in High Mountain Asia, which account for much of the region's downvalley water flow. Their layer of boulders and fine rock material can protect such glaciers from excessive ice melt, but in the Himalayas they seem to be  losing mass just as quickly as clean ice glaciers. The reasons for this are not yet known. The project aims to examine the hypothesis that ice cliffs and lakes forming on the glacier surface are responsible for the rapid melting.

Using a combination of satellite observation data, field work and physically-based models, Francesca Pellicciotti, who has dual Swiss-Italian citizenship, intends to prove the extension and lie cycle  of these ice walls and lakes and generate models able to predict the glaciers' future development. Little data are currently available on glacier changes in High Mountain Asia, despite the fact that millions of people in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal and China depend on water resources supplied by glaciers and snow.

Francesca Pellicciotti completed a postdoc at ETH Zurich and is now associate professor at Northumbria University in the UK. She will use the €2 million (CHF 2.3 million) grant to employ two PhD students and one postdoc for a five-year period, as well as for field work in the region and equipment expenses. Professor Pellicciotti's project is a promising addition to WSL's strong track record of glaciological research.


ERC Consolidator Grants fund excellent scientists whose own independent working group is in the consolidation phase and who have at least seven and up to 12 years of experience after PhD. Grants of up to €2 million are awarded for a period of five years.