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Fiamma Straneo Selected for Prestigious Sverdrup Lecture

Fiamma Straneo Fiamma Straneo’s lecture will highlight advances in understanding the mechanisms leading to rapid ice loss based on her field observations at the edge of massive calving glaciers in Greenland. (Courtesy of Fiammetta Straneo, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

February 17, 2016

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) has chosen Fiamma Straneo, a physical oceanographer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), to deliver the Sverdrup Lecture at this year’s meeting of the Ocean Sciences section held in New Orleans from February 21-26, 2016. The lecture is one of the highest awards the section bestows on its members.

The Sverdrup Lecturer is selected for exemplifying the work of pioneering geophysicist Harald Sverdrup with “outstanding contributions to the basic science of the atmosphere and the oceans and/or unselfish service promoting cooperation in atmospheric and oceanographic research.”

Lynne Talley, president of Ocean Sciences at AGU, said Straneo was recognized for the strength of her research on ice sheet/ocean interactions and on the overturning circulation in the subpolar North Atlantic—an area of special importance for the large scale ocean circulation.

Straneo’s research focuses on the role of the high latitude oceans in climate, including the interaction of the ocean with the atmosphere and the cryosphere—ice sheets, glaciers and sea-ice.

Over the past eight years, Straneo has been conducting fieldwork in Greenland where glaciers have been retreating and thinning at an accelerated pace since the mid-1990s. Her research investigates the role played by the ocean in triggering these changes as well as the impact of these changes on the ocean.

“The glaciers are not just melting,” Straneo said. “The glaciers are moving a lot faster, they’re thinning, they’re breaking up, and they’re retreating. They are changing how they work, and understanding those changes is crucial to improving predictions of climate change and sea level rise.”

Straneo’s lecture will highlight advances in understanding the mechanisms leading to rapid ice loss based on her field observations at the edge of massive calving glaciers in Greenland, where she and her colleagues have utilized helicopters, icebreakers, fishing vessels, and autonomous vehicles to access the region’s iceberg-choked fjords.

“Working at the edge of glaciers requires ingenuity and no small amount of courage,” said WHOI President and Director Mark Abbott. “Fiamma has demonstrated creativity and persistence to demonstrate the role of warm ocean currents in undermining glaciers and accelerating calving. She has brought a wide range of conventional and unconventional methods (moorings, helicopters, kayaks, autonomous vehicles, etc.) to study this important interface between the ocean and ice sheets.”

The lecture will be given on February 24, 2016, at 10:30 a.m. in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.  The Ocean Sciences meeting, which is held every other year, attracts more than 4,000 scientists from around the globe and is sponsored by the AGU, the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, and the Oceanography Society.

The Harald Ulrik Sverdrup Lecture honors the life and work of Sverdrup, who served as scientific director of Roald Amundsen’s polar expedition aboard the vessel Maud (1918-1925). He worked extensively on meteorology, magnetics, atmospheric electricity, physical oceanography, and tidal dynamics on the Siberian shelf.

“It is a great honor to be chosen to give this lecture,” Straneo said. “Almost 100 years after Sverdrup set off on the Maud Expedition to explore the Arctic, the challenges of understanding the interaction of the ocean, the atmosphere and the cryosphere in the polar regions persist. And the urgency is even greater now because of the rapid, ongoing changes we’re experiencing due to climate change.”

A native of Italy, Straneo completed her Laurea in Physics at the University of Milan. She received her Ph.D from the University of Washington. Straneo first came to WHOI as a postdoctoral scholar in 1999. She joined the Institution’s staff as an assistant scientist in 2002 and rose through the ranks of the Department of Physical Oceanography. She was promoted to senior scientist in 2014.

In 2013, she was chosen to participate as a fellow in the prestigious Leopold Leadership program. The program provides training to outstanding academic environmental researchers to help them engage effectively with leaders in the public and private sectors to integrate science into decision-making.

Straneo currently serves as co-director of GRISO (Greenland Ice Sheet-Ocean Network); co-Lead of the SEARCH (Study of Environmental Arctic Change) Land-Ice Panel and is a member of the US AMOC (Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation) Science Team. She was a fellow at the Bjerknes Center for Climate Research in Norway from 2002-2006.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment. For more information, please visit