Contact Details

Telephone: +44 (0)1224 273034
Email: m.spagnolo@abdn.ac.uk
Address: Dept of Geography & Environment School of Geoscience Elphinstone Road AB24 3UF Aberdeen UK

Cryosphere and Climate Change

Drumlins and drumliners


2016 to present   Reader in Physical Geography, University of Aberdeen, UK

2016 to present   Visiting Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, USA

2013-16   Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography, University of Aberdeen, UK

2009-13   Lecturer in Physical Geography, University of Aberdeen, UK

2007-09   Post-Doctoral Research Associate (NERC), Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, UK. Project: Morphometry of drumlins as a testfor subglacial bedform formation theories

2002-07   Post-Doctoral Research Associate, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Pisa, Italy. Project: Morphotectonics and glacialism of the Maritime Alps

2002   PhD Geological Sciences, University of Genova, Italy. Thesis: Morphotectonics and fluvial geomorphology of the Ligurian Alps

1999   MSc Remote Sensing, Istituto Agronomico per l’Oltremare, Firenze, Italy. Thesis: Remote Sensing and Natural Resource Evaluation in the Cochabamba Plain (Bolivia)

1998   BS Natural Sciences, University of Pisa, Italy. Thesis: Geomorphological study and mapping of the Val Grande di Palanfrè (Maritime Alps) 

Research Interests

  • Ice sheet/stream dynamics via the study of glacial bedforms (esp. drumlins & MSGL): morphometry, spatial distribution, formation and evolution
  • Quaternary climate changes, via the study of Alpine glaciations: glacial landform mapping, morphometry and distribution, glacier extent reconstruction and moraine dating via cosmogenics
  • The interplay between tectonics, climate and surface processes: glacial buzzsaw, rivers and catchment morphometry

Current Research

  • The formation of Mega Scale Glacial Lineations: insights into the mechanisms of ice stream flow

    Related funds: NERC new investigator, NERC iSTAR

    MSGL are extremely elongated ridges that maintain a parallel conformity over length of 10s of km. MSGL are the morphological expression of ice stream flow and are a signature of physical conditions at the ice-bed interface. Thus, the correct understanding of their formation is undoubtedly a key piece of the puzzle for solving fundamental questions regarding the dynamic behaviour of ice streams. In this project I am creating the largest (10s of thousands) database of mapped MSGL, onshore and offshore, and analyzing their metrics variability and spatial distribution. I am also looking into great details at onshore MSGL and inter-MSGL internal composition. Insights from the morphometry and the sedimentology are going to be used to testand improve theories on the formation of MSGL and to refine models of ice stream flow.


  • Drumlins: do we really know what they are?

        Related funds: NERC standard grant, NERC GEF 

Drumlins are likely the most studied landforms in glacial geomorphology (>1400 papers), and yet it is not clear how they are formed. Mega Scale Glacial Lineations have been “discovered” only a few decades ago but they have quickly become one of the best indicators of particularly fast flowing ice (ice streams). As part of the NERC project “testing the instability theory of subglacial bedform production”, I have discovered that many ideas of drumlin formation are based on assumptions of drumlin morphometry that are potentially wrong because based on out-of-dated techniques applied over a very small sample of landforms. With the increasing availability of GIS tools and DTM data it is now possible to map and analyze thousands of these landforms and re-write drumlins' characteristics. My interest lies in analyzing drumlins 2 and 3D morphometric properties in general and the spatial distribution of these properties within a landform swarm in particular. The aim is that of creating a solid data-based framework of information on drumlin morphometry that could be used as a tool to (i) challenge previous drumlin formation hypotheses and (ii) develop and/or test any numerical model of drumlin formation.


  • Pleistocene Alpine glaciers as a proxy to palaeo-climate

    Related funds: Leverhulme Trust, EU FP7, Carnegie Trust and NERC-SUERC

    There are theree distinct projects on this topic each focusing on a separate region, plus an overall arching project that looks at the Younger Dryas climate throughout Europe. The three distinct projects focus on: (i) the South-Western Alps, a region of high interest within the Alps for palaeo-glaciological and climatological studies, given its exceptional proximity to the Mediterranean Sea; (ii) the Balkans, where the glaciation record is crucial to understand the latitudinal distribution of ice masses during the Quaternary and provide key insights on the southern European palaeo-climate; (iii) the Faroe Islands, ideally placed to constraint the location of the polar front at the Younger Dryas. These projects, which rely on the fruitful collaboration with many colleagues in the UK, continental Europe and USA, are aiming at dating the most relevant advance phases of the glaciers that occupied this mountainous sectors during the Pleistocene. The research involves field mapping, moraine boulder sampling, sample preparation, cosmogenic dating, reconstruction of former glaciers extent and their ELA, palaeo-climate modelling.

Research Grants

Past three years

  • 2013-2017    Co-Investigator, ‘Characterising glacigenic reservoirs using geophysical, modelling and analogue studies’, Senergy Limited and University of Aberdeen co-funded PhD studentship (£60k)
  • 2013-2016    Co-Investigator, ‘The nature and dynamics of ice stream beds: assessing their role in ice-sheet stability’, NERC Ice Sheet Stability (iSTAR) PhD studentship (£71k)
  • 2013-2015    Co-Investigator, ‘Using glacier-climate proxies to model the Younger Dryas climate in Europe’, International Network Grant, The Leverhulme Trust (£119k)
  • 2012-2015    Co-Investigator, ‘Reconstructing variations in the timing and intensity of past climate perturbation in Northern Europe: the 'Little Ice Age' and Younger Dryas’, University of Aberdeen funded PhD studentship (£47k)
  • 2011-2014    Lone Investigator, The formation of mega scale Glacial Lineations: insights into the mechanisms of ice stream flow, NERC New Investigator scheme (£94k)
  • 2013   Co-Investigator, ‘FaroeICE, Palaeoclimate of the Faroe Islands during the lateglacial determined from palaeoglaCiological and palaeoEcological proxies’ International Network for Terrestrial Research and Monitoring in the Arctic, EU FP7 (€11k)
  • 2013   Co-Investigator, ‘Testing the instability hypothesis of drumlin formation using GPR’, NERC Geophysical Equipment Facility (£2k)
  • 2012-2013   Lone Investigator, Geomorphological evidence of Quaternary glaciation(s) in the Baba Massif (Macedonia), Carnegie Trust (£1k)
  • 2012-2013   Co-Investigator, Glacial landforms in the North Sea, joint industry research project funded by Apache North Sea Ltd. (£5k)
  • 2010-2012   Lone Investigator, The effect of climate variability across the Alps on the ages, number and size of glacier advances associated to the Younger Dryas, NERC Cosmogenic Isotope Analysis (£13k)
  • 2011   University of Aberdeen Principal Excellence Fund (£ .5k)
  • 2011   International Travel Grant, The Royal Society (£1.8k)
  • 2011   Conference Fund, Quaternary Research Association (£ .6k)

Teaching Responsibilities

Applied GIS Project Planning & Spatial Analysis, MSc students (redesign and co-delivery, course coordinator)

Mapping and Monitoring the Environment, 2nd year students (co-redesign and co-delivery, course coordinator)

GIS and Remote Sensing, 3rd year students, School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen (co-design and co-delivery, course coordinator)

The Montane Environment, 4th year students, course and fieldtrip to the Alps (co-delivery)

Global worlds, global challenges course fieldtrip to Forvie (Scotland), 1st year students (co-design and co-delivery)




Admin Responsibilities

Coordinator of EU Erasmus student exchange program, geography

Advisor of studies

Health and safety representative

Support at open days and prosepctive student visits to the Department


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