Published May 23, 2022
A feature of West Antarctica has been named for UB researcher Sophie Nowicki to honor her leadership in helping the world understand the future of sea level rise.
An internationally known ice sheet scientist and climate modeler, Nowicki joined UB in 2020 after many years at NASA. She is an Empire Innovation Professor in the Department of Geology, College of Arts and Sciences, and a core faculty member in the UB RENEW Institute.
The UK Antarctic Place-names Committee approved the term “Nowicki Foreland” for British use in reference to a “high, ice-covered foreland 9 kilometers wide and 30 kilometers long, forming the eastern arm of the Martin Peninsula on the coast of Marie Byrd Land.”
The Nowicki Foreland will also appear in the international Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research’s Composite Gazetteer of Antarctica. This widely used geographical index documents place names in Antarctica for marking maps, charts and other publications.
Nowicki called the naming “surreal” and a “special recognition.”
The honor is particularly meaningful as she has pursued a less conventional career path in science, forgoing opportunities to focus on her own individual research in favor of building worldwide collaboration in climate research.
“It really meant a lot that the time that I spent over the last eight years, trying to bring communities together, was recognized,” she says.
Through a workshop she organized years ago, Nowicki initiated a global effort known as ISMIP6, which brought over 60 ice, ocean and atmosphere scientists together to model how Earth’s melting ice sheets could impact sea levels by 2100.
ISMIP6 is short for Ice Sheet Model Intercomparison Project for phase 6 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project.
Today, the team’s research findings inform decision-making worldwide. ISMIP6 projections were included in the latest assessment report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which calls urgently for deep cuts to emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. Nowicki, who co-led ISMIP6, was one of 18 lead authors of a chapter on ocean, cryosphere and sea level change in the IPCC publication.
“For me, the most rewarding aspect has been building communities of researchers and enabling collaborations,” Nowicki says. “Science can sometime be very competitive. We are pushed to be the first one to show ‘X, Y, Z,’ or discover something. But there are many big problems for which progress can only be made if we work as a group for the better good.
“This is what ISMIP was: many scientists giving their time and willing to share their ideas to improve projections of future ice sheet evolution and thus sea level. ISMIP6 was only a success because my colleagues were willing to take part.”
“Understanding how the vast Antarctic Ice Sheet will contribute to global sea level rise over the next few hundred years is of utmost importance,” says Beata Csatho, professor and chair of geology at UB, and a fellow ice sheet scientist who has conducted field work and remote sensing research on Antarctica. “Dr. Nowicki led ISMIP6, which provided improved ice sheet mass loss estimates and related sea-level rise projections and improved the understanding of ice sheet processes critical for predicting future changes. By naming the Nowicki Foreland, a prominent feature on the coast of Marie Byrd Land, to her honor, the international community recognized her vital contributions as one of the pioneering women of Antarctic ice sheet science.”
As for the future of the Nowicki Foreland, this feature is located in the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica, where Nowicki’s theoretical research helped improve understanding of ice-ocean interactions. The foreland lies at the ice sheet’s edge in a region considered to be very vulnerable to climate change, Nowicki says.