Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder

Ice station: CU Boulder Students Contribute to Antarctic Research

Seven engineering students walked into a bagel shop. Rather than discuss lab assignments or upcoming exams, the students turned to more dire topics of conversation. They brainstormed solutions for understanding a massive glacier and how its contribution to sea level rise will impact their generation.

This diverse group of students from the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder included both men and women and representatives from the sophomore, junior, and senior classes. Raymie Fotherby, Ryan Weatherbee, Emma Tomlinson, Sid Arora, Coovi Meha, Skylar Edwards, and Jack Soltys spent a year working as part of the Thwaites-Amundsen Regional Survey and Network (TARSAN) project team for the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC). ITGC is a joint United States and United Kingdom mission to study Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier, the surrounding ocean system, and its future contribution to global sea level.

Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica is massive. It covers 192,000 square kilometers (74,000 square miles)—an area the size of Florida or Great Britain. It is rapidly losing mass in response to climate change and related changes in ocean circulation. Scientists expect this rate of ice loss to accelerate and fear that a run-away collapse of the glacier will lead to an increase in global sea levels of up to 65 centimeters, or two feet, in the coming centuries, putting coastal cities and communities around the world at risk. To put it in perspective, about 40 percent of the planet’s population live within 100 kilometers (60 miles) of the coast, and significant sea level rise could imperil eight out of ten of the world’s largest cities, including Tokyo, Mumbai, New York City, Shanghai, Lagos, Los Angeles, Calcutta, and Buenos Aires, according to the United Nations Atlas of the Oceans. For these reasons, ITGC seeks to answer two paramount questions: how much could Thwaites Glacier contribute to sea level rise, and how soon?

The TARSAN project team, of which the seven undergraduate CU students are a part, is studying how atmospheric and oceanic processes are influencing the behavior of Thwaites Glacier and nearby Dotson Ice Shelf. The two neighboring ice shelves are behaving differently, with Dotson Ice Shelf considered to be more stable than Thwaites Glacier. This research will help identify how variations in atmospheric or oceanic conditions may influence the stability of ice shelves in the region.


This story is from NSIDC communications. Continue reading the story here.

CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.