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Ice work if you can get it

The recent recipient of a prestigious award recognising how his research has significantly advanced our understanding of climate change has contributed to shaping Masterton district’s climate response, reports

Professor Nicholas Golledge has been awarded the Hutton Medal for his cutting-edge contributions to the modelling of the Antarctic ice sheet and research on climate change, including his role as a lead author for the most recent assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC].

During the course of establishing capability in observational and theoretical approaches to Antarctic ice-sheet modelling for New Zealand, Golledge has become a world leader in his field.

Golledge spoke with Times-Age about his work and latest achievements.

“In simple terms, I combine real-world measurements with computer models to make sure that the models are reliable. Only by ensuring that models accurately reproduce what we see and measure today can we have confidence that they also give us a reliable picture of what will happen in the future,” he said.

Golledge has significantly advanced knowledge of the ice sheet’s response to climate change and the impacts of melting ice on global sea level, ocean circulation, and climate variability.

“It’s a real honour to be awarded the Hutton Medal, and I am extremely grateful to my colleagues, collaborators, and students with whom much of the work recognised with this award has been carried out,” he said.

Golledge was part of the climate change focus group for Masterton District Council [MDC] through 2021 – 2022.

Every region in New Zealand needs an individual climate action plan in addition to any national ones due to the diverse climates across the country, Golledge said.

“Wairarapa has a warmer and drier climate compared to Wellington, for example, but that leaves us more susceptible to heat extremes and drought conditions,” he noted

A climate action plan comes with its own challenges, with one of the key challenges “getting everyone on board with the initiatives proposed. Not everyone will agree with the suggestions, for example. Ensuring that proposed changes are made in ways that are fair and equitable is key – we need to make sure that people see the collective benefit of working together.”

Wairarapa’s coastline is expansive and diverse, with some parts of the coast prone to erosion – particularly along the stretch near Ngāwī and Cape Palliser.

“We should be making plans for adaptation now, so that we are not caught by surprise when the next big winter storm comes through,” Golledge said.

Golledge’s research has received international recognition and media coverage, and has informed government policies.

As well as being a lead author on the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report on Climate Change, Golledge leads New Zealand’s Antarctic Science Platform initiatives, which aim to project how changes in Antarctica’s ice sheets will cause sea-level rises that will affect our coastlines.

His research on “Melting Ice and Rising Seas” aims to reduce uncertainty for communities around New Zealand by predicting the timing and magnitude of increases in sea level.

These should help us to develop strategies to mitigate the risks of some of the effects of climate change that are now assessed to be unavoidable.

Golledge began his career as a research geologist with the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he worked for 12 years.

Since 2009, he has worked at the Antarctic Research Centre at Victoria University as a glaciologist and ice-sheet modeller, where a key part of his work is the integration of field observations and numerical modelling.

This has enabled him to work across disciplines and develop robust models and simulations that are used by researchers worldwide and are included in the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment.

A Hutton Medal nomination supporter described Golledge’s research as “absolutely critical”.

“We are totally exposed to what happens in the vast Southern Ocean, and one of the keys to anticipating future change are the ice sheets of Antarctica and elsewhere.”

The supporter said the complexities of the interaction of ice sheets with the ocean, and in turn with the atmosphere, can only be dealt with by careful observation backed up by numerical models.

“Nick is a world-leader in this simulation and modelling field, as is well demonstrated by his publication record, the quality of the researchers with whom he collaborates, and the journals in which he has published.”

Golledge’s research and expertise in the environmental and climate-change field are widely read and valued by policymakers and advisors.

In 2018, he was one of four scientists who represented New Zealand on a working group that reviewed the latest research on the climate system, the cryosphere, and sea-level change for the IPCC.

Golledge was selected by this group of internationally recognised scientists to be one of the lead authors for one of the chapters of the IPCC report.

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