Researchers at the University of St Andrews have recently received two grants to research the impact of a Antarctic glacier’s collapse on climate change, as part of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration.

The international collaboration of 100 world-leading researchers includes those from the United Kingdom, the United States, and numerous other countries.

Their research is especially important because the Thwaites Glacier contributes 50 Gigatonnes of water to the ocean every year, accounting for over 4 per cent of global sea level increase, double that of what it was in the mid-1990s.  

The first grant, of £438,000, will fund DOMINOS (Disintegration of Marine Ice Sheets using Novel Optimised Simulations), which is to be led by Doug Benn, Professor of Environmental Change.

The project will use computer modelling to examine how the break-up of the Thwaites Glacier could increase the rate of ice flow into the ocean.

This important data is needed for global climate change models, which can be used to assist future policy planning.  

On the glacier, Professor Benn said, “The Thwaites Glacier is the Achilles heel of the Antarctic ice-sheet. It is particularly sensitive and indications are that the process of collapse has already begun.”

He continued, “The glacier has been thinning and speeding up due to increased melting beneath its floating tongue. Our concern is that breakup of the ice tongue could greatly accelerate the rate of ice loss in the near future, with a big impact on sea level. A rise of one metre in sea levels would mean a greater frequency of coastal flooding during extreme weather events, such as storm surges, hurricanes, and when big river flows coincide with high tides.”

Meanwhile, Dr Lars Boehme, a Lecturer in the School of Biology and Sea Mammal Research Unit, will work as part of TARSAN (Thwaites-Amundsen Regional Survey and Network) to measure the oceanic heat in front of glaciers, having received a grant of £540,000.    

Dr Boehe said that his research will attach tiny sensors to seals which can go under the ice, allowing the researchers to get data on sea temperatures that would not be possible to get using ships.   

Explaining the project in more detail, Dr Boehe said, “We will attach animal-borne instruments to Weddell and Elephant seals in this region. These tiny sensors, which are temporarily glued to the animals’ fur and fall off during moulting, will allow us to collect essential oceanographic observations during the winter time.”


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