UT researcher discusses glacier research

Emma Acosta

When it comes to learning about how glaciers change and move, scientists have only scratched the tip of the iceberg, according to one UT researcher.

Timothy Bartholomaus, glaciologist and postdoctoral research associate in the Institute of Geophysics, discussed his research on glacier movement as part of the De Ford lecture series Thursday.

Bartholomaus said he wants to keep learning about glaciers and better understand how water flow through glaciers affects their speed.

“There are still some surprises that are coming out in the literature,” Bartholomaus said.

Bartholomaus is trying to discover why glaciers calve, or shed ice, when they do. During his research in Greenland, he stumbled upon a way to use seismic sensors to measure water flowing through glaciers and into the ocean. According to Bartholomaus, the rising sea level has already started to affect places like Miami.

“We have ocean water bubbling up in people’s lawns,” Bartholomaus said, “so it’s already affecting the people who are living there.”

Bartholomaus’ research can help with measuring glacier movement in order to help scientists predict whether the sea level will rise or fall. Bartholomaus said the seismic noise levels he initially recorded reminded him of shapes of rivers flowing out of glaciers. He discovered water flowing underneath glaciers produced seismic signals because they picked up water vibration noise.

Bartholemaus said this moved his work toward understanding water flow occurring inside glaciers. The process is similar to ice melting in a water cup, Bartholomaus said, and understanding how ice is melting can help measure the rising water.

“It’s like adding more ice to the water cup,” Bartholomaus said.

Geoscience associate professor Elizabeth Catlos said she asked Bartholomaus to be the first speaker in the De Ford Lecture Series, hosted each year by the Jackson School of Geosciences, because of his advanced research techniques.           
“He’s an up-and-comer in his field,” Catlos said. “We are happy to have him speak to our students.”

Denis Felikson, a Ph.D. student who worked under Bartholomaus in Greenland, said this discovery will help scientists model a glacier where calving occurs.

“Working with him is fantastic,” said Felkinson, who studies at the Institute for Geophysics. “Tim is one of the most positive people I’ve ever met and one of the most inquisitive people I’ve ever met. He’s always asking the next question.”