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Department of Geography



Understanding contemporary changes in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet

The aim of this project is to develop a numerical ice-flow model for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and its ice streams. The model will feature accurate predictive ability for simulation of the 21st century when coupled to an Earth-system model. We will use the model to develop a better understanding of the contemporary changes in the West Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS) observed over the last c. 20 years. The study will make use of a wide range of observations including satellite remote imaging, airborne surveys and ground-based field campaigns. This latter aspect of the project is facilitated by tight links to a range of project partners and to close collaboration with the US National Science Foundation's programmes on West Antarctica, in particular, the Amundsen Sea Embayment Plan coordinated through the International Polar Year. The following objectives are tied to model development:

  1. Widen our ability to assimilate ice velocity information into models to estimate the rheology and thickness of ice shelves and streams.
  2. Incorporate both higher-order flow physics and the use of assimilated information into our continental-scale ice flow model.
  3. Develop nested-grid algorithm to allow ice streams and shelves to be simulated at a sufficiently high spatial resolution within the continental-scale ice flow model.
  4. Incorporate an existing model of subglacial rheological processes into the large-scale ice sheet model and develop hydrological aspects of the model.
  5. Once these developments are complete, the project will address the following four application-orientated objectives.
  6. Apply data-assimilation methodology to a wide selection of WAIS ice shelves to generate information on patterns of ice thickness, melt rate and ice rheology.
  7. Determine spatial patterns of subglacial controls on ice stream flow and incorporate parameterizations into large-scale model.
  8. Apply GLIMMER with relevant developments to study variability of Siple Coast ice streams.
  9. Apply GLIMMER with relevant developments to study contrasting response of WAIS ice streams to prescribed changes in their ice shelves.