Wyden, Merkley Welcome $2.2 Million in Glacier Study Grants for OSU, UO

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley said today that a combined $2.2 million in new collaborative research grants for Oregon State University and the University of Oregon to study tidewater glaciers will generate key climate change data.

Noting that sea-level rise will affect millions of people in coastal communities within the next several decades, the National Science Foundation (NSF) said its grants will study tidewater glaciers’ role in that threat.

“Comprehensive scientific studies like these on tidewater glaciers produce results that can and must be used to protect communities along the Oregon Coast, the United States and the world,” Wyden said. “These grants will play a significant part in the attack on climate change, and I’m gratified that researchers at OSU and the U of O have earned these resources to support their trailblazing work.”

“The coronavirus is a glaring reminder of how important it is that we respond to national and global crises with decisive actions that are grounded in good science,” said Merkley. “If there’s one thing the bungled response to the pandemic shows, it’s that wishing a problem away doesn’t work. I’m glad this funding will help OSU and U of O continue making important contributions to the research that will help us meet the challenges posed by the climate crisis.”

Oregon State University will receive a $1.96 million grant from the NSF’s Office of Polar Programs. The University of Oregon will receive a $253,192 grant from the same program.

“This NSF award provides an exciting new opportunity to leverage OSU’s strength in oceanography and robotic technologies to make the first direct measurements of ice melt beneath the dangerous calving ice cliffs of a tidewater glacier” said Jonathan Nash, Professor of Oceanography at Oregon State University. “These observations are a key element necessary to better predict the severity of sea level rise driven by our changing climate. Never before have measurements like this been possible.”

“We will explore the physics of the ice-ocean interface, that small boundary layer right where the fjord and glacier front meet. You can imagine that’s a hard place to get data from, as icebergs crash down and ocean currents are swirling around,” said UO oceanographer Dave Sutherland. “We are planning to collect observations of a tidewater glacier face using a suite of tools developed both at UO and OSU. OSU is leading the autonomous boat development and collection of measurements, while we at UO are going to image the subsurface face of the glacier using multibeam sonar mounted on a small boat, an approach that builds on previous research.”

In addition to Nash and Sutherland, this collaborative project also involves glaciologist Dr. Erin Pettit, coastal engineer Dr. Meagan Wengrove, and numerical modeler Dr. Eric Skyllingstad, all at OSU; and Dr. Rebecca Jackson at Rutgers University.