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Cardiff scientist receives future leader funding

10 September 2021

Dr Michael Prior-Jones, from the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, has been awarded a prestigious Future Leaders Fellowship (FLF) to help address the growing problem of melting glaciers in Greenland.

The funding will be used to develop a host of state-of-the-art instruments to monitor glaciers in ways that haven’t previously been possible, which will be tested on a major expedition to Greenland in 2025.

Supported by a £900m research fund, the UKRI’s flagship Future Leaders Fellowship scheme aims to grow the strong supply of talented individuals needed to ensure that UK research and innovation remains world-class.

The Fellowships provide researchers from diverse backgrounds and career paths with the flexibility and time they need to make progress addressing some of society’s most pressing issues.

Dr Prior-Jones said: “I am extremely honoured and excited to have been awarded this Fellowship. The funding will enable me to develop a range of new instruments and technologies that will allow new insights into the behaviours of glaciers and contribute to better forecasts of global sea level rise due to climate change.”

Increasing global temperatures are causing glaciers to melt. The meltwater trickles down through cracks and holes in the ice, acting as a lubricant and encouraging the glacier to slide – just like a curling stone slides over the surface of an ice rink.

When a glacier slides downstream and eventually meets the ocean, it melts and causes sea levels to rise with potentially devastating effects for coastal communities around the world.

Dr Prior-Jones is part of a Cardiff-led team that has developed a small wireless probe, known as a ‘Cryoegg’, that can be sent over 2000 metres inside a glacier to collect vital, real-time information about the surrounding conditions.

An advanced version of the Cryoegg will be developed as a result of the new funding, alongside instruments to study snow, flowing streams on the surface of the glacier, moulins – water channels inside the glacier – and water beneath the glacier.

A major expedition to Sermeq Kujalleq/Jakobshavn Glacier, one of the fastest-moving glaciers in Greenland, will also take place in 2025.

Dr Prior-Jones’s background is in electronic engineering, having obtained a PhD in Engineering from the University of Leicester in 2010 before taking up a number of roles across academia and industry, many of which were based in Antarctica.

He took up a post-doctoral researcher role at Cardiff University in 2019, working alongside Dr Liz Bagshaw on the Cryoegg project.

Dr Prior-Jones is part of a cohort of around 100 fellows selected in round five of the FLF scheme, comprising researchers and innovators from academia, business, and industry throughout the UK.

Dr Prior-Jones has received £1.4m from the funding scheme, which will help fund his research over the next four years.

“I would particularly like to thank everyone who has supported me throughout the application process, especially my line manager Dr Liz Bagshaw, who has been a great source of encouragement and support.”

“I’m looking forward to getting started on this exciting programme of research and building up a team of colleagues and collaborators both within Cardiff and at many other institutions,” continued Dr Prior-Jones.

UKRI Chief Executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said: “I am delighted that UKRI is able to support the next generation of research and innovation leaders through our Future Leaders Fellowship programme.

“The new Fellows announced today will have the support and freedom they need to pursue their research and innovation ideas, delivering new knowledge and understanding and tackling some of the greatest challenges of our time.”

Professor Kim Graham, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research, Innovation and Enterprise, said: “The UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship scheme provides researchers and innovators with outstanding long-term funding to support innovative new research and rapid transition to leadership.

“I congratulate Mike on his success with this prestigious scheme, and look forward to him becoming part of Cardiff’s growing cohort of UKRI Future Leaders Fellows.  I have no doubt that Mike’s fellowship – on environmental changes to glaciers – will lead to exciting new research knowledge and outcomes, as well as help him develop into a future research leader at Cardiff.”

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