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How Can Research Protect Our Glaciers and Waters?

Climate Change Aggravates Water-Based Problems 

Climate change is creating myriad water-based issues, from warmer water temperatures to increased water levels and droughts. According to NASA, if all glaciers and ice sheets melted, the global sea level would rise by at least 195 feet (59 meters), causing the disappearance of coastal cities. Data gathered from their satellites shows that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are already shrinking considerably. Rising temperatures would not only melt our polar ice caps, but also cause negative changes in marine ecosystems, food sources, and drinkable water sources. Thus, researchers and scientists across the globe are focusing on addressing these most pressing global challenges. With support from the Thomas Jefferson Fund, three projects are completing research that could predict ice shelf melting, estimate river discharge, and measure nitrogen fixation.  

Predicting Ice Shelf Melting  

Though it is widely known that ice sheets are melting, the rate of such change is currently unknown. To address this threat, precise predictions are needed. Dr. Pierre Dutrieux, Assistant Research Professor at Columbia University, and Dr. Nicolas Jourdain, Researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, have been working on a Thomas Jefferson Fund project focused on understanding the past variability of ice-shelf melting in the Amundsen Sea in western Antartica in order to better foresee future changes. Through the utilization of hydrographic mapping, underwater robots that give insight into ice-ocean interactions, and the model Nucleus for European Modelling of the Ocean (NEMO) that evaluates ice-shelf melting and water mass transformations simulations, Dutrieux and Jourdain hope to understand the oceanic heat distribution and variability in the Amundsen Sea and the way it is transmitted to the ice.  

Improving River Discharge Estimations Via Satellite 

Rain is an important source of water for the world; rainwater irrigates crops, snow-melt enables thirsty desert cities to thrive, and river water remains a vital resource for all livelihoods. NASA and France’s National Centre for Space Studies (CNES) have recognized the importance of providing open-source information about the world’s water and plan to launch their Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite in November 2022. This satellite will estimate river flows from outer space, giving public access to information about rivers on every continent. The methods to use data accumulated by the satellite to estimate river flow are unprecedented and revolutionary. Dr. Colin Gleason, Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Dr. Hind Oubanas, Research Engineer at France’s National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (IRSTEA) focus on improving and producing new methodology to estimate river discharge from satellite observations. So far, they have created an approach where researchers can use satellites to observe quantities of river discharge, apply a well-known equation, and estimate the discharge. Such methods are vital to the success of the SWOT mission, and to achieving an accurate global estimate of river discharge for the first time. 

Improving Measurement Processes of Nitrogen Fixation in Oceans  

While water may be fundamental for life, nitrogen also plays a key role in plant growth. Nitrogen is necessary for creating food, but it can also harm the environment. If there is too little nitrogen, plants cannot thrive, but too much nitrogen can be toxic to plants and harm the environment. Dr. Samuel Wilson, Assistant Researcher at the University of Hawaii, and Dr. Mar Benavides, Researcher at the Mediterranean Institute of Oceanography, are completing research on the first stage of the nitrogen cycle in water, nitrogen fixation. Currently, measurements of nitrogen fixation and quantification of the responsible microorganism take several hours, if not days, to process, and samples are often processed months after fieldwork is completed. Wilson and Benavides have developed methods to measure nitrogen fixation within 20 minutes and quantify microbes between 15-30 minutes respectively. Through their project, they hope to use these rapid methods to measure activity and diversity in near real-time. This new system will revitalize measurements of nitrogen fixation in global oceans and ensure that nitrogen levels are correctly balanced. 

Make Our Planet Great Again  

This research are supported by the Thomas Jefferson Fund, which seeks to foster forward-thinking collaborative research that addresses pressing global issues. The Thomas Jefferson Fund received support from the Make Our Planet Great Again initiative by prioritizing funding for transatlantic research projects that tackle the challenges of climate change. The Make Our Planet Great Again initiative was launched by the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, in June 2017 to reinforce the international engagement of the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. These researchers’ projects demonstrate the kind of collaborative scientific research that will contribute to global progress in the management of climate change. 




Thomas Jefferson Fund | FACE Foundation

The Thomas Jefferson Fund provides a unique framework to foster innovative projects and enrich French-American research collaborations. 


Learn more about funded projects and research in all disciplines by following the Thomas Jefferson Fund on LinkedIn.