Project Information
Synoptic Evaluation of Long-Term Antarctic Ice Sheet Model Simulations using a Continent-Wide Database of Cosmogenic-Nuclide Measurements
Short Title:
Model-data comparison
Start Date:
End Date:
The purpose of this project is to use geological data that record past changes in the Antarctic ice sheets to test computer models for ice sheet change. The geologic data mainly consist of dated glacial deposits that are preserved above the level of the present ice sheet, and range in age from thousands to millions of years old. These provide information about the size, thickness, and rate of change of the ice sheets during past times when the ice sheets were larger than present. In addition, some of these data are from below the present ice surface and therefore also provide some information about past warm periods when ice sheets were most likely smaller than present. The primary purpose of the computer model is to predict future ice sheet changes, but because significant changes in the size of ice sheets are slow and likely occur over hundreds of years or longer, the only way to determine whether these models are accurate is to test their ability to reproduce past ice sheet changes. The primary purpose of this project is to carry out such a test. The research team will compile relevant geologic data, in some cases generate new data by dating additional deposits, and develop methods and software to compare data to model simulations. In addition, this project will (i) contribute to building and sustaining U.S. science capacity through postdoctoral training in geochronology, ice sheet modeling, and data science, and (ii) improve public access to geologic data and model simulations relevant to ice sheet change through online database and website development.

Technical aspects of this project are primarily focused on the field of cosmogenic-nuclide exposure-dating, which is a method that relies on the production of rare stable and radio-nuclides by cosmic-ray interactions with rocks and minerals exposed at the Earth's surface. Because the advance and retreat of ice sheets results in alternating cosmic-ray exposure and shielding of underlying bedrock and surficial deposits, this technique is commonly used to date and reconstruct past ice sheet changes. First, this project will contribute to compiling and systematizing a large amount of cosmogenic-nuclide exposure age data collected in Antarctica during the past three decades. Second, it will generate additional geochemical data needed to improve the extent and usefulness of measurements of stable cosmogenic nuclides, cosmogenic neon-21 in particular, that are useful for constraining ice-sheet behavior on million-year timescales. Third, it will develop a computational framework for comparison of the geologic data set with existing numerical model simulations of Antarctic ice sheet change during the past several million years, with particular emphasis on model simulations of past warm periods, for example the middle Pliocene ca. 3-3.3 million years ago, during which the Antarctic ice sheets are hypothesized to have been substantially smaller than present. Fourth, guided by the results of this comparison, it will generate new model simulations aimed at improving agreement between model simulations and geologic data, as well as diagnosing which processes or parameterizations in the models are or are not well constrained by the data.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
Person Role
Balco, Gregory Investigator and contact
Spector, Perrry Researcher
Antarctic Earth Sciences Award # 1744771
Antarctic Glaciology Award # 1744771
AMD - DIF Record(s)
Data Management Plan
Product Level:
4 (model output and interpretations)
  1. Halberstadt, A. R. W., Balco, G., Buchband, H., & Spector, P. (2022). Cosmogenic-nuclide data from Antarctic nunataks can constrain past ice sheet sensitivity to marine ice margin instabilities. (doi:10.5194/tc-2022-213)
  2. Halberstadt, A. R. W., Balco, G., Buchband, H., & Spector, P. (2023). Cosmogenic-nuclide data from Antarctic nunataks can constrain past ice sheet instabilities. The Cryosphere, 17(4), 1623–1643. (doi:10.5194/tc-17-1623-2023)
Platforms and Instruments

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