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Swansea scientist and mum-of-two trying to get to the bottom of climate change

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: January 31, 2013

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A SWANSEA scientist and mum-of-two has been studying volcanic ash in the deep freeze to piece together what Earth was like in a "warm" period with similarities to today.

Professor Siwan Davies, of Swansea University, took part in a four-year project which involved studying ice cores from deep below the surface of the Greenland ice-sheet.

The team's findings have been published in science journal Nature.

The warmer temperatures of the study period — 130,000 to 115,000 years ago — were accompanied by a marked sea level rise.

The researchers revealed that some of this 4-8m rise was caused by the melting Greenland ice-sheet, but not all.

In fact, the findings suggest that a significant part of the rise was caused by the unstable West Antarctic ice-sheet, way down south.

Although the climate in Greenland back then peaked at some 8C higher than today's, the findings may be a good indicator of where the planet is heading, although nobody is predicting 8C temperature rises any time soon.

Many countries, including Wales, are vulnerable to sea level rise.

Professor Davies's research focused on volcanic ash particles within the ice, which enables scientists to date the climatic events chronicled by the frozen cores.

"For the first time, a detailed record of climate changes during the last interglacial has been achieved from a deep ice-core in Greenland and this study shows the importance of investigating this period to see how our planet will respond in a warmer world," she said.

Professor Davies, of the university's geography department, spent four weeks in a camp in North Greenland hunting microscopic ash particles in ice cores.

"They should have a distinct fingerprint to trace back which volcanoes they came from," said the 35-year-old, of Uplands.

Prof Davies has done fieldwork in Greenland before, and described it as a great experience.

The 2008-12 project team shared cooking and cleaning duties and treated themselves to a weekly shower on Saturday night.

"There is a special mindset among the people there," said Professor Davies.

The mother-of-two is now spearheading a separate project to investigate huge, abrupt climatic swings in the Arctic. During the last glacial period, from 115,000 to 11,500 years ago, she said the climate swung by 8-16C in just decades.

One of the biggest questions she and her team of Swansea University researchers are tackling is whether these shifts were triggered by ocean or atmosphere changes.

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