UNCW Assistant Professor Till Wagner to Lead Collaborative Research on Icebergs and Climate

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

UNCW physics and physical oceanography assistant professor Till Wagner will lead a multi-institutional research team that will explore the role of icebergs in the climate system. The project was awarded grants totaling more than $578,000 through the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs.

“Icebergs can be the size of Delaware and can really have an impact on the climate,” Wagner said. “We want to represent everything that is important in global climate models.”

The project is a collaboration by UNCW, Princeton University and the University of California San Diego, where Wagner did his postdoctoral work and where he drafted the original grant proposal. UNCW’s grant totals $289,502, while Princeton will receive $288,668. UCSD’s role is primarily in a consulting capacity, Wagner said. The project will involve at least one postdoctoral scholar and an Honors College student at UNCW.

Icebergs form when melting, land-based ice sheets or glaciers slide down the coastline into the ocean and massive chunks break off. Many are so large they can actually carry their own “microclimate” with them, said Wagner, who joined the UNCW faculty this year. But most global climate models do not take icebergs into account, even though they can have a significant effect, Wagner said.

With a focus on the Southern Ocean that surrounds Antarctica, the UNCW team will model the physics of icebergs as they lose mass due to melting and calving. Princeton researchers who are affiliated with the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory will use the results from UNCW’s research to integrate icebergs into GFDL climate models.

UNCW’s Strategic Plan emphasizes collaborative faculty research and applied learning opportunities for students.

“Dr. Wagner’s research will enhance our understanding of the physics of icebergs and their effect on the global climate,” said Dylan McNamara, chair of the Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography. “This joint research involving UNCW and two other universities will also enable scientists to refine and improve predictive climate models.”

-- Tricia Vance



In this 2012 photo, Till Wagner, now a UNCW assistant professor of physics and physical oceanography, stands on an iceberg off eastern Baffin Island, Canada. At its maximum dimensions, it measured more than six miles long and over 300 feet thick. Photo by Chris Packham.