Project Information
NSFGEO-NERC: Understanding the Response to Ocean Melting for Two of East Antarctica's Most Vulnerable Glaciers: Totten and Denman
Short Title:
Understanding Totten and Denman Glaciers
Start Date:
End Date:
The snow that falls on Antarctica compresses to ice that flows toward the coast as a large sheet, returning it to the ocean over periods of centuries to millennia. In many places around Antarctica, the ice sheet extends from the land to over the ocean, forming floating ice shelves on the periphery. If this cycle is in balance, the ice sheets help maintain a stable sea level. When the climate cools or warms, however, sea level falls or rises as the ice sheet gains or loses ice. The peripheral ice shelves are important for regulating sea level because they help hold back the flow of ice to the ocean. Warming ocean waters thin ice shelves by melting their undersides, allowing ice to flow faster to the ocean, and raising sea level globally. Thus, an important question is how much sea level will rise in response to warming ocean temperatures over the next century(s) that further thin Antarctica?s ice shelves. Currently, West Antarctica produces the majority of the continent?s contribution to sea level. Albeit with large uncertainty, ice-sheet models indicate that Totten and Denman glaciers in East Antarctica could also produce substantial sea-level rise in the next century(s). This international study will focus on improving understanding of how much these glaciers will contribute to sea level under various warming scenarios. The project will use numerical models constrained by oceanographic and remote sensing observations to determine how Totten and Denman glaciers will respond to increased melting. Remote sensing data will provide updated and improved estimates of the melt rate for each ice shelf. Two float profilers will be deployed from aircraft by British and Australian partners in front of each ice shelf to repeatedly measure the temperature and salinity of the water column, with the results telemetered back via satellite link. The melt and oceanographic data will be used to constrain parameterized transfer functions for ice-shelf cavity melting in response to ocean temperature, improving on current parameterizations based on limited data. These melt functions will be used with ocean temperatures from climate models to force an open-source ice-flow numerical model for each glacier to determine the century-scale response for a variety of scenarios, helping to reduce uncertainty in sea level contributions from this part of Antarctica. Processes other than melt that might further alter the contribution to sea level over the next few centuries will also be examined. On the observational side, the demonstrated deployment of float profilers from a sonobuoy launch tube in polar settings would help raise the technology readiness of operational in-situ monitoring of the rapidly changing polar shelf seas, paving the way for an expansion of observations of ocean hydrographic properties from remote areas that currently are poorly understood. In addition to being of scientific value, reduced uncertainty in sea-level rise projections has strong societal benefit to coastal communities struggling with long-range planning to mitigate the effects of sea-level rise over the coming decades to centuries. Outreach activities by team members will help raise public awareness of Antarctica's dramatic changes and the resulting consequences. This is a project jointly funded by the National Science Foundation?s Directorate for Geosciences (NSF/GEO) and the National Environment Research Council (NERC) of the United Kingdom (UK) via the NSF/GEO-NERC Lead Agency Agreement. This Agreement allows a single joint US/UK proposal to be submitted and peer-reviewed by the Agency whose investigator has the largest proportion of the budget. Upon successful joint determination of an award recommendation, each Agency funds the proportion of the budget that supports scientists at institutions in their respective countries.
Person Role
Joughin, Ian Investigator and contact
Shapero, Daniel Co-Investigator
Smith, Benjamin E Co-Investigator
Antarctic Glaciology Award # 2231230
Antarctic Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences Award # 2231230
AMD - DIF Record(s)
Data Management Plan
None in the Database
Product Level:
Not provided

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