Swansea University professor presents research on melting icebergs

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Tavi Murray, professor of glaciology at Swansea University in Wales, lectured at the SAC on Friday morning on iceberg calving.

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

Tavi Murray, a glaciology professor at Swansea University in Wales, presented her team’s research of iceberg calving as one of the causes of rising sea levels Friday at the SAC.

The lecture was part of Swansea University’s Texas Showcase — a week-long tour presenting the Welsh university’s research with stops at UT, Texas A&M University and the University of Houston.

Murray led an expedition in Southeast Greenland to research how iceberg calving, which is when a piece of ice falls off the front of a glacier, has contributed to a rise in sea levels.

Swansea glaciology professor Tim James said he witnessed the phenomenon while the team videotaped the glaciers.  

“When we heard this really loud banging shooting down the fjord, we knew we had to get the cameras rolling,” James said. “In the case of the calving event that we witnessed this summer, it was 4 kilometers wide, 800 meters high and about 300 meters deep, and it’s more like the size of a small city.”

The team studied the Helheim and Kangerdlugssuaq glaciers, two of the largest glaciers in Southeast Greenland. Murray said the team’s observations helped link the rate at which icebergs fall to the rate at which sea levels rise.

“If we can understand the rates of discharge through the glaciers of Greenland, then we can actually understand the sea level rise which is coming from Greenland,” Murray said.

In 2013, Murray contributed to work published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which provides the most current knowledge on climate change. She said the group’s most recent report used the information her research team found while watching the glaciers.

“The warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” Murray said. “Global warming is evident from increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and rising global Earth sea levels.”

Murray said warming ocean temperatures have increased the melting of glaciers.

“It’s been suggested that changes in the oceans are actually the key to changes in glaciers,” Murray said.  

UT glaciologists have been conducting research in Greenland by focusing on the Northwest region.

“These are really complementary projects, I think,” Murray said. “Both of these regions are characterized by glaciers that terminate in the ocean.”

Both team’s research will continue to unearth more information on rising sea levels.   

“What we really want to know is how much water Greenland is going to contribute to sea level in the future,” Murray said. “The trend for sea level is inexorably upwards.”