Collaborative Research: Building Geologically Informed Bed Classes to Improve Projections of Ice Sheet Change

Lead PI: Kirsty J Tinto , Dr. Robin E. Bell , Dr. David Porter

Unit Affiliation: Marine and Polar Geophysics, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

August 2020 - July 2023
Antarctica ; Amundsen Sea ; Thwaites Glacier
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: Predictions of future changes of the Antarctic ice sheet are essential for understanding changes in the global sea level expected for the coming centuries. These predictions rely on models of ice-sheet flow that in turn rely on knowledge of the physical conditions of the Antarctic continent beneath the ice. Exploration of Antarctica by land, sea, and air has advanced our understanding of the geological material under the Antarctic ice sheet, but this information has not yet been fully integrated into ice-sheet models. This project will take advantage of existing data from decades of US and international investment in geophysical surveys to create a new understanding of the geology underlying the Amundsen Sea and the adjacent areas of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, a portion of Antarctica that is considered particularly vulnerable to collapse. A series of new datasets called "Bed Classes" will be developed that will translate the geological properties of the Antarctic continent in ways that can be incorporated into ice-sheet models.

This project will develop a new regional geologic/tectonic framework for the Amundsen Sea Embayment and its ice catchments using extensive marine and airborne geophysical data together with ground-based onshore geophysical and geological constraints to delineate sedimentary basins, bedrock ridges, faults, and volcanic structures. Using this new geologic interpretation of the region, several key issues regarding the geologic influence on ice-sheet stability will be addressed: whether the regional heat flow is dominated by localization along the faults or lithology; the role of geology on the sources, sinks, and flow-paths of subglacial water; the distribution of sediments that determine bed-character variability; and the extent of geologic control on the current Thwaites Glacier grounding line. The impact of improved geological knowledge on ice-sheet models will be tested with the development of a set of "Bed Class" grids to capture these new insights for use in the models. Bed Classes will be tested within the Parallel Ice Sheet Model framework with initial experiments to identify the sensitivity of model simulations to geological parameterizations. Through a series of workshops with ice-sheet modelers, the Bed Classes will be refined and made accessible to the broader modelling community. This work aims to ensure that the Bed-Class concept can be applied more broadly to ice-sheet models working in different geographic areas and on different timescales.