William Armstrong

Glaciology, Arctic Earth Systems, Remote Sensing

Associate Professor, Geological and Environmental Sciences, Appalachian State University


I am an earth scientist who uses remote sensing, numerical modeling,  and field studies to answer questions in glaciology and Arctic earth surface processes. I am a passionate educator in the classroom and the field who strives to integrate geospatial data, quantitative thinking, and broadly applicable/employable skills into all my courses. 


Find my CV here.

Armstrong downloading weather station data on Athabasca Glacier (Canada). Photo by Zach Montes.

Professional preparation

University of Colorado at Boulder

PhD in Geological Sciences, May 2017

Advisor: Bob Anderson

Boston College

BS in Environmental Geoscience, May 2010

Advisors: Noah Snyder (BC) and Matt Collins (NOAA)


Appalachian State University

Associate Professor (July 2024 - present)

Appalachian State University

Assistant Professor (Dec 2018 - June 2024)

University of Alaska Fairbanks

Affiliate Faculty (Aug 2019 - present)

Appalachian State University

Visiting Assistant Professor (Aug 2017 - Dec 2018)

University of Colorado at Boulder

Research and Teaching Assistant (2012-2017)

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Restoration Center

Research Associate (2011)

Congaree National Park

Guest Scientist (2010)

US Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division

Paralegal and Office Assistant (2009)

Record of external funding

National Science Foundation, Office of Polar Programs, Arctic Natural Sciences (Award  2334775)

Lead PI with co-investigators Dave Sutherland (University of Oregon) and Irina Overeem (University of Colorado)

$941,900 ($303,391 to App State); 2024 - 2027

Around the world, lakes have formed and grown at glacier termini following glacier retreat (Carrivick & Tweed, 2013; Shugar et al., 2020; Rick et al., 2022; Zhang et al., 2024). The presence of these lakes could have significant impacts for downstream water quality & habitat, as well as upstream glacier dynamics. Many terminal lakes have grown substantially in past decades, but it is is unclear how much these lakes are a cause or symptom of rapid glacier treat. In this multidisciplinary project spanning the glacier-lake interface, we will directly quantify how much ice is lost through melting and subaqueous melt at three Jnueau Icefield outlet glaciers, and assess the importance of lake presence for the glaciers past & future change. We will partner with the Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP) and Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) to constrain glacier-wide processes and expand demographic representation within the cryospheric sciences. See my research page for more information.

National Science Foundation, Office of Polar Programs, Arctic Natural Sciences (Award 1821002)

Lead PI with co-investigator Martin Truffer (University of Alaska Fairbanks)

$700,874 ($288,248 to App State); 2018-2024

The evolution of glacier speed in a warming world affects the timing and amount of glacier ice that is transferred to downstream river systems and the global ocean. Glacier motion is sensitive to meltwater, and recent work suggests that climate warming will slow glacier motion due to more efficient drainage of the glacier bed (e.g., van de Wal, 2015; Tedstone et al., 2015). However, these conclusions are drawn from relatively short time spans and we know that a glacier's sensitivity to water inputs can evolve over decadal timescales (Iken & Truffer, 1997). Our project builds on pioneering work (Raymond, 1971) to investigate how the dynamics of Athabasca Glacier evolved over the 55 years as the glacier has thinned and retreated in response to climate change. Our work combined numerical modeling, remote sensing, and an extensive field campaign including 12 instrumented full ice-thickness boreholes. We found that Athabasca Glacier's speed halved since the 1960s, and that 70-100% of that slowing is attributable to declining basal motion due to increased basal friction that likely resulted from changes in glacier geometry as well as surface melt (Armstrong et al., 2022; Polashenski et al., accepted). Slowing basal motion should help stabilize the glacier in a warming climate, but the glacier still thinned rapidly (~1 m/yr on average; Tennant & Menounos, 2013; Armstrong et al., 2022), suggesting that the magnitude of climate warming has overwhelmed any stabilizing feedback associated with glacier dynamics. See my research page for more information.

American Geophysical Union Centennial Grant

Co-investigator with Lead PI Marta Toran (Appalachian State University)

$5,700 (2019-2020)

Misperceptions about career opportunities are cited as a leading cause for the earth sciences being the least diverse STEM field (Sherman-Morris & McNeal, 2016), with little sign of improvement over the past 40 years (Bernard and Cooperdock, 2018). We will develop educational materials and a costume and green screen-based K12 outreach activity to familiarize young people (with particular focus on underrepresented groups) on viable careers in earth science, many of which feature more lab or computer-based work than field work.

Click here for a profile about this project in Appalachian Today.

In the news

Pursuit Collections, the concessionaire who run the Columbia Icefield Visitor Centre in Jasper National Park (Alberta, Canada), wrote a story for their guests about our research on Athabasca Glacier.

I was interviewed by the American Geophysical Union's Eos magazine to provide scientific context for a story about the impact of proglacial lake change on glacier dynamics.

The US Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (USAPECS) posted a short blog describing my experience navigating the "two body problem" and spousal hires.

Appalachian's College of Arts & Sciences wrote a story highlighting the heavy involvement of our department's undergraduates in the 2019 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting.

Undergraduate researcher Anthony Hengst's presentation on Alaska proglacial lake change at the 2018 American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting was featured in Mauri Pelto's From a Glacier's Perspective AGU blog.

Our research project investigating the evolution of glacier dynamics as Athabasca Glacier has thinned and retreated over the past 50 years was highlighted in Appalachian Today.

Appalachian State University undergraduates wrote a blog post about my research and thoughts on being an academic scientist for their first year writing seminar.

An interview about my remote sensing glacier speedup research was published in the NASA Landsat science blog in December 2016.

My hydroclimate work was highlighted in the Journal of the American Water Resources  editor's blog in April 2012.