A group of more than 20 geologists, glaciologists, climate and social scientists from Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington, GNS Science and NIWA, led by the university’s Antarctic Research Centre Te Puna Pātiotio, make up the winning team, ‘Melting Ice and Rising Seas’, that has won the 2019 Prime Minister’s Science Prize.
The Melting Ice and Rising Seas team was led by Professor Timothy Naish, former Director of the Antarcitc Research Centre at Victoria University of Wellington Te Herenga Waka. Professor Naish is currently joint Chief Officer of SCAR’s Programme Planning Group on Instabilities and Thresholds in Antarctica (INSTANT) and of SCAR's Scientific Research Programme Past Antarctic Ice Sheet dynamics (PAIS) and was awarded the Tinker Muse prize in 2014.
The team consisted of Associate Professor Nick Golledge, Associate Professor Rob McKay, Associate Professor Nancy Bertler, Associate Professor Richard Levy, Associate Professor Brian Anderson, Emeritus Professor Peter Barrett FRSNZ, Emeritus Professor Lionel Carter FRSNZ, Dr Ruzica Dadic, Dr Warren Dickinson, Dr Gavin Dunbar, Dr Shaun Eaves, Dr Huw Horgan, Dr Elizabeth Keller, Dr Judy Lawrence, Darcy Mandeno, Associate Professor Rebecca Priestley CRSNZ, Alexander Pyne, Professor James Renwick, Michelle Dow, Dao Polsiri, Dr Rob Bell, and Professor Andrew Mackintosh.
The New Zealand scientists are behind the breakthrough discovery that Antarctica’s ice sheets melted rapidly in the past and could have a significant impact on global sea level rise over the next 80 years. They found that Antarctic melt due to climate change could contribute to global sea level rise of 1.4 metres by the year 2100, rather than the one metre predicted back in 2013 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body charged with keeping the world up-to-date on the effects of climate change. When the effect of land subsidence is taken into account, the rise could be as much as two metres for some places in New Zealand.
The team’s discovery began with work 15 years ago by New Zealand scientists who drilled and analysed ice and sediment cores in Antarctica’s Ross Sea sector.
Geological archives gathered on how ice had advanced and retreated over 20 million years have now been integrated with the latest ice sheet and climate models to show the impact of Antarctic melting under a warming climate.
They also found that Antarctica’s ice sheet has a stability threshold of 2°C of global warming, and that there is still a pathway to mitigate the impact of sea level rise around the world.
Nominator Professor Dame Jane Francis, Director of the British Antarctic Survey, says the team has put New Zealand at the forefront of global environmental research. “Their research has made truly outstanding contributions to this major topic of concern.”
A portion of the $500K prize will support a two-year postdoctoral research fellow to work with the NZ SeaRise Programme on Antarctic ice sheet dynamics and implications for sea level rise in New Zealand.
SCAR warmly congratulates the whole team. More information on the ‘Melting Ice and Rising Seas’ team and the 2019 Prime Minister’s Science Prize can be found here.