National Science Foundation/USGS Internship Opportunities

Are the USGS Benchmark Glaciers spatially representative? Using geodetic constraints to develop a regional glacier mass balance record

This project will integrate observations collected over a 50-year interval to provide deep insight into long-term patterns of glacier change in Alaska. Results will contribute to a broad range of disciplines from sea level change to fish biology. Work with an enthusiastic, dynamic group to understand the forcing behind the rapid change in the complex Alaska mountain glacier region.

Link to PDF Version.

Project Hypothesis or Objectives:

The glacier mass balance time series at the USGS Benchmark Glaciers now exceed 50 years in duration, but the representativeness of these time series of regional patterns remains an open and important question. In fact, recent research highlights mass balance variability among glaciers in the same climate. This project will focus on a unique opportunity to resolve regional patterns in glacier mass balance by combining remote sensing and airborne mapping missions with recently digitized historic aerial photography. Extending digital elevation model (DEM) differencing around the USGS benchmark glaciers will allow us to address the longstanding hypothesis that these glaciers are regionally representative in a quantitative manner.

Duration: Up to 12 months

Internship Location: Anchorage, AK

Field(s) of Study: Geoscience, glaciology, geophysics, photogrammetry

Applicable NSF Division: AGS Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, EAR Earth Sciences, OCE Ocean Sciences, PLR Polar Programs

Intern Type Preference: Either Type of Intern

Keywords: glaciology, geophysics, photogrammetry

Expected Outcome:

Substantial tradeoffs exist between spatial and temporal resolving power of field and remote sensing methods for glacier mass balance. Combining the two approaches will facilitate longer duration records at broader spatial scales. In turn, these results provide understanding spatiotemporal variability in one of the fastest changing mountain glacier regions on earth. We expect that results from this work will provide a foundation for a high-profile paper describing glacier change in Alaska.

Special skills/training Required:

Scientific computing skills are central to this position. The applicant should be familiar with MATLAB or Python, and some prior exposure to Structure from Motion (SfM) photogrammetry (Agisoft Photoscan software) is desired. Applicants should be comfortable working with large, complex data sets, and database skills are considered a strong asset. Glaciological field work may be an option, but is not required. Applicants should have degrees in Earth or Computer Science. Experience with glaciological theory is desirable.


The internship will focus on producing DEMs for glaciers located near a USGS benchmark glacier. These DEMs may be derived from commercial space-borne platforms, commercial airborne LiDAR and radar platforms, or historic aerial photographs that have recently been digitized. Time series of glacier volume change will then be studied in concert with existing records of change at the Benchmark glaciers. Towards the latter half of the internship, substantial attention will be devoted to manuscript preparation.


Shad O'Neel, Ph.D.

Research Geophysicist
Alaska Science Center
Phone: 907-786-7088