Campus News

Scientists lead study on ice sheet runoff’s impact

Runoff from melting glaciers in West Greenland is producing dramatic changes in its ice sheet, though scientists don’t yet understand the effects these changes will have on the surrounding ocean.

A new $1.49 million interdisciplinary science grant from NASA will support efforts by UGA faculty in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences’ geography and marine sciences departments to measure the effects of climate change on biological productivity in the ocean. The three-year research project, “From the Ice Sheet to the Sea: An Interdisciplinary Study of the Impact of Extreme Melt on Ocean Stratification and Productivity Near West Greenland,” is a collaboration between scientists at UGA, the City College of New York and Rutgers and Stanford universities.

The study will examine the connection between Greenland ice sheet melt water and ocean productivity using remote sensing and modeling tools as well as data gathered on site. The work will examine the effect of melt on ocean circulation and mixing. It also will investigate the role of ocean stratification and nutrients on ocean productivity.

Thomas Mote, professor and head of the geography department, is principal investigator on the grant. He is joined from UGA by Patricia Yager and Renato Castelao of the marine sciences department.

When the Greenland ice sheet melts, ocean levels rise. A number of processes associated with melting, from the introduction of warmer, nutrient-rich freshwater into the ocean to decreases in the Arctic ice sheet to reflect sunlight, can affect biological productivity in the oceans.

“The questions we’re looking at will concentrate on issues stemming from the big discharges of water that were observed in 2012,” Mote said, such as “how those discharges are then affecting the stratification of the ocean and how is that changing the biological productivity of the ocean, which then is going to affect the carbon budget of the ocean as well.”