Ice Sheet Modeling - A Portrait of a Hot Research Topic

Nina Kirchner
Department of Physical Geography and Quartenary Geology
Bert Bolin Centre for Climate Research
Stockholm University


Recent changes of the cryopshere, especially those related to a shrinking Greenland ice sheet and to the spectacular breaking up of ice shelves fringing the Antarctic continent, have turned numerical ice sheet modeling from a fairly exotic research discipline into one that is in the right in the spotlight. This is mainly because predictions of future sea level rise caused by the melting of the Earth's frozen freshwater reservoirs due to global warming require an understanding of how the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica respond to such a warming.

The spatio-temporal evolution of future as well as former (e.g. paleo) ice sheet configurations in the polar regions represents an extremely challenging topic for large-scale numerical modeling: this is because numerical models must eventually account for interaction dynamics between ice sheets and attached ice shelves which become afloat on the ocean and are nourihsed by the grounded inland ice masses through ice streams. While numerical models simulating the dynamics of individual system components are well-established (ice sheet models, ice shelf models), the development of coupled ice sheet/shelf/stream models is a hot research topic that involves contributions from continuum mechanics, applied mathematics, numerical modeling and scientific computing.

Numerical ice sheet modeling has been initiated at Stockholm University within the Bert Bolin Center for Climate Research in 2008. A major aim of the talk is thus to present this discipline, to lay the foundations for possible future exchange and to identify possible interfaces for cooperation.