My research interests and expertise are focused on understanding the extent and dynamics of present and former glaciers, principally through investigating sediment-landform signatures in terrestrial glacial environments. This involves a combination of field-based glacial geology (geomorphological mapping and sedimentology), near-surface geophysics, GIS and/or remote sensing. I am particularly interested in the following research themes:

  • Geophysical investigations of terrestrial glacial environments
  • Modes of ice-marginal and proglacial sediment deposition
  • Historical and contemporary glacier change in the Nordic countries
  • Geomorphology, dynamics and thermal regimes of plateau icefields
  • Extent, dynamics and palaeoclimatic implications of Quaternary ice masses
  • Glaciolacustrine sedimentation and former ice-dammed lakes

Previous and ongoing projects primarily relate to three key areas, which are outlined in more detail below.

Geophysical investigations of ice-marginal sediments and landforms

My current primary area of research interest is applying near-surface geophysics to glacial environments, in conjunction with traditional glacial-geological methods.

Near-surface geophysics offers considerable potential for non-destructive imaging of the subsurface within glacial geology (and the geosciences, more broadly), but the use of multiple geophysical methods (i.e. ground penetrating radar, seismic reflection and refraction, electrical resistivity) remains under utilised. This particularly applies to ice-marginal sediments and landforms in terrestrial glacial environments, where geophysical investigations have been relatively limited. A multi-method geophysical approach offers the chance to image the architecture of highly complex, small-scale glacial landforms and sedimentary sequences. This detailed knowledge of surface and subsurface glacial geology is required to provide crucial empirical data on past glacier behaviour over different timescales.

Photo: Suottasglaciären and its foreland in Sarek, Swedish Lapland. This is one of my study sites for research under this theme. Photo © Erik Schytt Holmlund.

Research under this theme will focus on applying multiple geophysical methods to moraine complexes in the Sarek mountain region, northern Sweden, and will test these against ‘baseline’ glacial-geological data. The aim is to provide a ‘template’ that can be used to exploit the glacial landform record and extract important data on past glacier activity. This research is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Moraine formation and insights into glacier dynamics

Photo: a ‘sawtooth’ moraine on the foreland of Skálafellsjökull, southeast Iceland, formed by pushing of subglacial till at a heavily-crevassed glacier margin (see Chandler et al., 2016)

Ice-marginal moraines, as delineators of the position of a glacier margin at a given time, undoubtedly represent some of the most important empirical archives for examining past glacier retreat and ice-marginal dynamics. Observations of moraine formation in modern glacial environments allow clear links to be made between processes contributing to moraine formation and ice-marginal dynamics, glacier thermal regime and/or climate. Conversely, in former glacier environments, detailed investigations of the internal composition and internal architecture of moraines can provide important information on the dynamics and thermal regimes of Pleistocene and Early Holocene glaciers from the nature of the moraine-forming processes.

My research in modern glacial environments (Iceland) has focused on examining seasonal climatic controls on glacier dynamics through mapping the distribution of moraines and studying their internal composition (e.g. Chandler et al., 2016, QSR; Chandler et al., 2016, arktos). In former glacier environments (Scotland), I have used sedimentological data from moraines to decipher a glaciodynamic signature, providing insights into the ice-marginal dynamics and thermal regime of Younger Dryas glaciers.

Extent, style and dynamics of Quaternary glaciations in Scotland

Photo: the Gaick Pass in Central Scotland, which was occupied by a plateau icefield outlet glacier during the Younger Dryas (see Chandler et al., 2019).

Investigating the geomorphological signatures of former or formerly more extensive, mountain glaciers (cirque glaciers to ice-caps) enables the reconstruction of their three-dimensional form and dynamics. The reconstructions can, in turn, be used to calculate palaeoclimatic parameters for glaciated regions. The importance of this research is twofold: Firstly, it provides crucial palaeoclimatic data which are needed to test and refine numerical models. Secondly, detailed understanding of past glacier response to changing climate can help contextualise ongoing, and predicted, glacier fluctuations.

My research has focused on Quaternary glaciations in the Scottish Highlands, where there is an abundance of well-preserved glacial landforms and sediments that allows the terrestrial signature of climatic change during the Last Glacial-Interglacial Transition (~16-8 ka) to be linked to records elsewhere in the North Atlantic region. This research involves extensive geomorphological mapping (in the field and from aerial photos) to establish the distribution and pattern of glacial landforms. This mapping is then used to reconstruct the three-dimensional form (extent, morphology and thickness) of former mountain glaciers and the associated palaeoclimatic boundary conditions (e.g. Chandler and Lukas, 2017; Chandler et al., 2019).

Research under this theme has also involved examining processes of ice-marginal, proglacial and glaciolacustrine deposition and using the sedimentological data to gain insights into former glacier dynamics and thermal regimes.


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