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Thwaites Glacier Grant

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Oklahoma Geological Survey State Seismologist Jake Walter and University of Oklahoma Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy Assistant Professor Nori Nakata have been selected to take part in a $25 million research collaboration to study a remote Antarctic glacier and how its collapse could significantly affect global sea levels.

The International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, funded by the National Science Foundation in the United States and the Natural Environment Research Council in the United Kingdom, is the largest joint project undertaken by the two nations in Antarctica for more than 70 years. It brings together 100 scientists and researchers from top institutions around the world to gather the data needed to understand the accelerated melting of the Thwaites Glacier.

This glacier is considered by scientists to be “the weak underbelly” of the West Antarctic ice sheet. Researchers believe the glacier’s collapse may significantly contribute to global sea-level rise. Their goal is to determine if that will begin in the coming decades or coming centuries, and to shine light on sensitivity of the Antarctic ice sheet to changes in climate.

Walter and Nakata received a $524,000 grant for their role in the initiative. They will be part of the $3 million Thwaites Interdisciplinary Margin Evolution, or TIME, team. The OU researchers will travel to Thwaites Glacier, remote even by Antarctic standards, to conduct parts of the research.

 “Our team is focused on producing high-resolution, 3D images of the glacier bed so that we may understand how those conditions promote fast flow of ice to the ocean. There is no question that sea level will rise in the future, and these measurements will be crucial to estimate how fast it may occur,” said Walter.

Other institutions represented on the TIME team are Stanford University, University of Cambridge, University of California, Santa Cruz and University of Texas at El Paso.

The OU-related project will use precision GPS, as well as seismic and radar instrumentation to collect new data on the current behavior and future evolution of the margins – the edges where the fast-moving and slow-moving parts of Thwaites Glacier meet. This will help improve computer models used to predict the future contribution of this ice sheet to global sea-level changes. The glacier has already drained an area roughly the size Florida, accounting for four percent of global sea-level rise – an amount that has doubled since the mid-1990s. 

The Oklahoma Geological Survey is housed on the University of Oklahoma Norman campus and is affiliated with the Mewbourne College and Earth and Energy. Research collaborations like this one provide a service to the people of Oklahoma and beyond. For more information on ITGC, visit https://thwaitesglacier.org.