International Climate and Cryosphere Office coming to UMass Amherst

  • Winter sun setting over the tundra polygons in northern Alaska in November 2015. As winter sets in and snow settles, the soils take time to freeze completely and continue to emit carbon dioxide long into the new year. NASA/JPL-CALTECH/CHARLES MILLER

  • A region at the base of the Alaska Range south of Fairbanks. NASA/ROSS NELSON

  • BRADLEY

  • DECONTO

For the Recorder
Published: 10/21/2022 4:37:43 PM

The University of Massachusetts Amherst will host the Climate and Cryosphere International Project Office for the next five years, engaging in research aimed at better understanding the impacts of global warming on the planet’s frozen areas.

The project is one of the World Climate Research Program’s core initiatives and will receive $2.5 million in funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation and NASA. UMass geosciences professors Robert DeConto and Raymond Bradley will lead the project.

The project focuses on research that supports studying the interconnection of climate change and the cryosphere, which refers to frozen portions of the planet, including all aspects of snow and ice on Earth, such as snow cover, glaciers, ice caps, sea ice, lake ice and permafrost.

“The project intends to support and connect national and international scientists from this field with each other. Hopefully, workshops and symposiums will help them come up with new ideas about what kind of cryosphere science we need to be doing to get a more comprehensive understanding of how the world is changing,” said DeConto, professor of geosciences and director of the School of Earth and Sustainability at UMass. “The project aims to analyze how glaciers and ice sheets respond to global warming, as these processes are directly impacting the sea level rise at our coastal areas, including Massachusetts.”

DeConto explained that once water from glaciers and ice caps goes into the ocean, it changes the circulation and current, directly impacting our climate and food security.

“There are downstream effects on the ocean that will be impactful in New England. Those changes impact our fisheries, as the fish are sensitive to changes in currents in ocean temperature,” DeConto said. “Those changes will also impact the rate of warming. Right now, the Northeast of the U.S. is among the fastest warming regions in the continental United States, and partly, that’s because of the offshore changes in the ocean.”

Bradley, a professor of geosciences and director of the Climate System Research Center at UMass, added that for the upcoming years, the project’s primary goal is to better understand how the climate changes by observing polar and mountain region ice sheets and glaciers.

“Glaciers are impacting people who live in mountain areas, even down into the tropics,” Bradley said. “The loss of frozen ground permafrost causes hazardous conditions, avalanches and rockslides. That is why we are trying to focus attention on how quickly those ice masses will change and what impacts these processes will have on climate change and global warming.”

Moving the project office to UMass was a long and challenging process. It was important for Bradley and DeConto to convince the National Science Foundation and NASA that the Climate and Cryosphere International Project would provide interesting opportunities for American scientists and people in American academic institutions.

“The university has a strong research base, but we needed to raise funds to finance it,” Bradley explained. “After discussing this opportunity with the National Science Foundation and NASA, they encouraged us to submit a proposal outlining what the office would do and what resources we would need, and they eventually agreed to fund it.”

Bradley said the office is planning to hire a director, an executive officer and a communications specialist for social media outreach relating to climate while maintaining regular interactions with the World Climate Research Program’s Geneva office.

“We will have a telecommunications center set up for teleconferences with Geneva and other members of the Scientific Steering Committee around the world,” Bradley said. “The International Science Committee and the Scientific Steering Committee will provide guidance for the main activities of the office.”

Once the office opens with the full-time professional base personnel, the project intends to attract other opportunities.

“The project will be open for visiting scientists, and it will also create opportunities for students and interns to be engaged collaboratively in the activities of the office,” Bradley said.

According to its website, the Climate and Cryosphere (CliC) Core Project “identifies key research questions, priorities, gaps and challenges pertaining to the cryosphere and its interaction with the global climate system and coordinates international activities to help address them.”

The World Climate Research Program is sponsored by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, United Nations World Meteorological Organization and the International Science Council. Its objective is to advance understanding of the dynamic interactions between natural and social systems that affect climate and support climate science.

The Climate and Cryosphere International Project Office and staff are currently located in Geneva and will be moving to UMass Amherst and the Department of Geosciences later this fall.

Nino Mtchedlishvili writes from the Boston University Statehouse Program.


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