Leif Anderson

Research Statement

I research how mountain and arctic environments respond to climate change. I work at the intersection of geomorphology, glaciology, and paleoclimate. More specifically my research falls into three categories:

  • Past glacier and climate change

Constraining past glacier and climate change is vital as for placing current change in context for both research and outreach. Past glacier extents are preserved as moraines in mountain ranges globally. To study past glacier and climate changes I integrate glacier models with diverse datasets. My work has considered the role of climate fluctuations at both long and short timescales: from glacial-interglacial variability to year-to-year variability. Many glaciers will soon disappear so I model both the inception and demise (or lifespans) of glaciers.

  • Debris-covered glacier response to climate change

Loose sand and boulders (or debris) on glacier surfaces is common in high-relief mountain ranges like the Alps or Himalaya. This debris cover reduces ice melt rates leading to the expectation that these glaciers should thin less than glaciers without debris cover. Yet these debris-covered glaciers often thin rapidly. My research uses numerical models, remote sensing, and field studies to understand the processes leading to this rapid thinning.

  • Interactions between glaciers, mountain landscapes, and climate

The movement of glaciers sculpts rock into iconic mountain landscapes. By steepening the slopes above them glaciers increase the erosion of rocks onto themselves. This is especially apparent during ‘paraglaciation,’ when glaciers are contracting. Numerous feedbacks between glacier erosion, sediment (or debris), and climate change are apparent. I use numerical models and erosion rates derived from cosmogenic radionuclides to explore these feedbacks.


Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Leif completed his studies at Montana State University in Geology. His PhD research was completed at the University of Colorado in Boulder in geomorphology and glaciology with Robert Anderson. At the University of Colorado Leif learned to develop models. His focus was on modeling glacier response to climate change with an emphasis on the effects of climate variability and debris cover. He also completed glaciological field work on Kennicott Glacier, Alaska to document the effect of ice cliffs on the melting of debris-covered glaciers. Leif is an accomplished field mapper with experience working at multiple scales.

Leif’s first postdoctoral position had him relocate to University of Iceland and Simon Fraser University near Vancouver, BC. He worked with paleoclimatologists and glaciologists to explore the Holocene climate and glacial history of Iceland using glacier models. More recently Leif was a postdoctoral researcher at the German Centre for Geoscience Research (GFZ) in Potsdam. His research there focused on developing theory for how debris-covered glaciers thin differently than debris-free glaciers. He also modeled how changes in erosion affect glaciers over Quaternary timescales. You can learn more about Leif’s research here.

Leif joined ICE in November 2020. He is excited to engage with such an open, collaborative team! At the University of Lausanne his research will focus on modeling erosion rate changes in the Alps over the last million years.


Full publication list is available here


University of Lausanne
Institute of Earth Surface Dynamics
Géopolis – Bureau 4413
1015 Lausanne, Switzerland

+41 21 692 35 40