Glaciologist Joins Arctic Engineering Cluster

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Mathieu Morlighem is the inaugural Evans Family Distinguished Professor of Earth Sciences.

Mathieu Morlighem
Glaciologist Mathieu Morlighem joined the earth sciences department in July. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

Glaciologist Mathieu Morlighem joins Dartmouth as the inaugural Evans Family Distinguished Professor of Earth Sciences in the Arctic Engineering in a Period of Climate Change cluster. The interdisciplinary faculty team focuses on issues related to the Arctic and Antarctic, building on programs in the Department of Earth Sciences, the Institute of Arctic Studies at the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding, and Thayer School of Engineering.

Morlighem studies the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica and how they are affected by climate change. His wide-ranging research interests share a single goal: to improve the accuracy of sea level rise projections.

Morlighem arrives in Hanover as the world grapples with climate change-related wildfires, extreme heat, and flash floods, and as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—which is part of the United Nations—prepares to release an updated report, its first in eight years.

Interim Provost David Kotz ’86 says he is delighted to welcome Morlighem to Dartmouth.

“The world’s most pressing and complex problems require innovative, multidisciplinary solutions,” says Kotz. “A pioneering scholar who has collaborated with scientists from across the disciplines, Mathieu will help broaden and deepen Dartmouth’s work in this vital field.”

The cluster is part of the Academic Cluster Initiative, which brings together faculty from across the institution to shape and advance knowledge about current and emerging issues.

Morlighem holds a PhD in mechanical engineering, a master’s degree in engineering, and a research master’s degree in structural dynamics and coupled systems all from École Centrale Paris, and a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Paris. Drawing on his engineering background, he developed more-reliable methods of modeling ice sheets and mapping the bedrock beneath them, information that is crucial for predicting how ice will respond to climate change.

“Year after year, the IPCC repeats that one of the key uncertainties in sea level rise projections is the ice sheets and what they are going to do,” Morlighem says. Many countries want to know how to design protective structures, such as dams, “or whether they should just ask people to relocate. They need realistic predictions of sea level rise, so it is critical to improve our understanding of how quickly the ice sheet may melt as the atmosphere and ocean continue to warm.”

Morlighem, who joined the Department of Earth Sciences on July 1, says he is looking forward to working with students on his research and to exploring new scientific questions.

With Dartmouth’s strong focus on Arctic regions and on high latitudes in general, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory right around the corner, “opportunities for collaboration are everywhere,” says Morlighem, who has co-authored more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.

Morlighem previously worked in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and as an assistant professor and an associate professor of earth system science at the University of California, Irvine. He has received the European Geosciences Union’s Arne Richter Award for Outstanding Early Career Scientists, in 2018, and the 2014 NASA Cryospheric Sciences Most Valuable Player award, among other honors.

Aimee Minbiole