CWU News

CWU Researcher Plays Significant Role in International Global Warming Research Project

Antarctic drilling project overview

A schematic overview of the SWAIS 2C drilling project, funded in part by a $2.9 million NSF grant. CWU researcher Paul Winberry is playing an important role regarding drilling locations in the Antarctic.

Central Washington University is one of seven U.S. institutions selected to participate in an international global warming research project that will be funded, in part, by a $2.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The Sensitivity of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet 2C (SWAIS 2C) project, which involves researchers from at least five other countries, seeks to examine the ice sheet’s sensitivity to global warming of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by retrieving sediment cores from the ocean floor to search for geologic evidence of ice sheet retreat during previous eras in the earth’s history.

Approximately 12 months from now, a team of engineers will drill through the Antarctic ice sheet, a half-mile below sea level, to gather sediment samples that scientists believe will provide insight into how the planet will respond to a global temperature increase of 2 degrees C — a phenomenon that may occur during this century. 

CWU researcher and geophysicist Paul Winberry became involved in the project in the summer of 2019 because of his extensive knowledge about where these sediment samples exist in the Antarctic region. He has conducted research in the southern hemisphere throughout his career and contributed his expertise to the NSF grant proposal that was submitted last summer.

Winberry said he won’t be traveling to Antarctica to participate in the drilling; his primary contribution thus far has been using his knowledge of the region to help the team select drilling locations.

“Before you drill these holes, you want an image of what the earth looks like at great depth,” said Winberry, whose role is to collect the data that will be used to determine where to drill. “The team needs to know ahead of time that there is going to be sediment, and one of the reasons I am involved is that I have expertise that can help guide the best places to drill.”

He added that the seismic measurements he has collected help provide a sense of space, and they help put the samples into a broader context so scientists can interpret the data from a glaciological perspective. 

“We don’t know the age of the dirt, but we do know it’s there,” he said. “My role is to help frame that interpretation so the other members of the team can do their jobs more effectively.”

SWAIS 2C is supported by $4.6 million in combined funding from the U.S., Germany, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and South Korea. The other U.S. institutions joining CWU in the project are Columbia University, Rice University, Colgate University, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Northern Illinois University, and Binghamton University.

Winberry said being involved in these influential international research projects is “always very rewarding” for him and his colleagues.

“This is very important work because it will show us if the ice sheet disappeared when temperatures increased by 2 degrees Celsius, or if it didn’t,” he said. “That will give us confidence about what would happen if the world warmed up again by a couple of degrees.”

Media contact: David Leder, Department of Public Affairs,, 509-963-1518.