Collaborative Research: Modeling Ice-ocean Interaction for the Rapidly Evolving Ice Shelf Cavities of Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers, Antarctica
DESCRIPTION: The West Antarctic Ice Sheet contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by 3-4 meters. Ice-sheet volume falls, and sea level increases, when more ice is lost to the ocean by glacier flow than is replaced by snowfall. Glacier speed is reduced when ice shelves, which are the floating extensions of the ice sheets, are present. Processes that affect ice shelf thickness and extent therefore influence the rates of grounded ice loss and sea-level rise. West Antarctica is currently losing ice, at an accelerating rate, with most loss occurring in the Amundsen Sea region via discharge from Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers. This loss was initiated by increased circulation of relatively warm ocean water beneath these glacier's ice shelves, causing them to thin by melting. However, this melting also depends on how the changing shape of the ice shelves affects the ocean circulation beneath them and the speeds of the grounded glaciers upstream. Limited understanding of these processes leads to uncertainties in estimates of future ice loss. This interdisciplinary project brings together glaciologists and oceanographers from three US institutions to study the interactions between changing glacier flow, ice shelf shape and extent, and ocean circulation. Data and numerical models will be used to identify the key processes that determine how rapidly this region can shed ice. The project team will train postdocs and graduate students in cutting-edge modeling techniques, and educate the public about Antarctic ice loss through talks, school science fairs, and Seattle Science Center's annual Polar Science Weekend.