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Swansea University research to give a GLIMPSE of the future of Greenland’s ice sheet

31.05.2007
A scientist at Swansea University is to receive a £800,000 Leverhulme Trust Award to establish a team to investigate the future stability of the Greenland ice sheet.

Nine researchers, including three PhD students, will work in Swansea and Greenland on the five-year project, called Greenland Ice Margin Prediction, Stability and Evolution (GLIMPSE), which begins in September 2007.

The project will be led by Polar Medal awardee Professor Tavi Murray, from the University’s School of the Environment and Society. The project’s key outcome will be better predictions of the future of the Greenland ice sheet, and therefore the rate of future sea level rise.

The Greenland ice sheet is changing rapidly, and contributing to current global sea-levels. Recent observations show many glaciers have speeded up causing these changes, but glaciologists do not yet understand why or how.

The models used to predict future sea-level do not include the changes in speed, and consequently underestimate Greenland’s future contribution to sea-level rise.

The GLIMPSE project will build a multi-disciplinary group, based in Swansea University, who will collaborate with international experts to address these deficiencies.

The team will collaborate with colleagues in the Universities of Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle, and Alaska, as well as National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), USA, the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Danish Meteorological Institute, and the University Centre in Svalbard, Norway to undertake the work.

An annual average temperature rise of more than 3ºC is predicted to cause complete melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which would eventually raise sea-level by more than six metres. The 1990s was the warmest decade in the Arctic since records began, and most climate predictions for the 21st century show a 5-7ºC temperature rise in the Arctic.

Current models suggest the deglaciation of Greenland in response to these rising temperatures should occur slowly over 1000s of years, but the models used do not include recent observed changes in ice dynamics.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) explains why: “Because a basis in published literature is lacking.”

Professor Murray, who will lead the GLIMPSE group, said: “Our lack of understanding of how Greenland’s outlet glaciers are changing means that models will consistently under-predict the rate of sea-level rise from Greenland. The GLIMPSE project will help ensure these models make better predictions of the Greenland ice sheet’s future.”

She added: “I believe the stability of the Greenland ice sheet to be the most pressing question facing glaciology, and certainly one of the most pressing problems facing our civilisation.”

Professor Michael Barnsley, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of the School of the Environment and Society at Swansea University, said: “This timely award for Professor Murray, which coincides with the International Polar Year and the International Year of Planet Earth, is a further example of how Swansea continues to contribute to world-class scientific research into climate change.”

This summer, Professor Murray and colleague Dr Tim James from the Glaciology Group at Swansea University will travel to Greenland to collect data from the Helheim and Kangerdlussuaq glaciers, with the NERC Airborne Research and Survey Facility (ARSF).

Research published in 2006 led by Dr Adrian Luckman from the Swansea Glaciology Group showed these glaciers had doubled in speed, so they are a natural target for the GLIMPSE team.

The progress of the GLIMPSE project in the field can be followed through postings of a field-based web diary and photographs by satellite phone at www.greenlandice.org.

For further information about Swansea University’s School of the Environment and Society, please visit www.swansea.ac.uk/environment_society/.

Bethan Evans | alfa
Further information:
http://www.swansea.ac.uk
http://www.swansea.ac.uk/environment_society

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