Collaborative Research: East Antarctic Outlet Glacier Dynamics
This award supports a project to conduct a suite of experiments to study spatial and temporal variations of basal conditions beneath Beardmore Glacier, an East Antarctic outlet glacier that discharges into the Ross Sea Embayment. The intellectual merit of the project is that it should help verify whether or not global warming will play a much larger role in the future mass balance of ice sheets than previously considered. Recent observations of rapid changes in discharge of fast-flowing outlet glaciers and ice streams suggest that dynamical responses to warming could affect that ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica. Assessment of possible consequences of these responses is hampered by the lack of information about the basal boundary conditions. The leading hypothesis is that variations in basal conditions exert strong control on the discharge of outlet glaciers. Airborne and surface-based radar measurements of Beardmore Glacier will be made to map the ice thickness and geometry of the sub-glacial trough and active and passive seismic experiments, together with ground-based radar and GPS measurements will be made to map spatial and temporal variations of conditions at the ice-bed interface. The observational data will be used to constrain dynamic models of glacier flow. The models will be used to address the primary controls on the dynamics of Antarctic outlet glaciers, the conditions at the bed, their spatial and temporal variation, and how such variability might affect the sliding and flow of these glaciers. The work will also explore whether or not these outlet glaciers could draw down the interior of East Antarctica, and if so, how fast. The study will take three years including two field seasons to complete and results from the work will be disseminated through public and professional meetings and journal publications. All data and metadata will be made available through the NSIDC web portal. The broader impacts of the work are that it will help elucidate the fundamental physics of outlet glacier dynamics which is needed to improve predictions of the response of ice sheets to changing environmental conditions. The project will also provide support for early career investigators and will provide training and support for one graduate and two undergraduate students. All collaborators are currently involved in scientific outreach and graduate student education and they are committed to fostering diversity.
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