Modelling Antarctic Ice Sheets

The elephant in the room: how will the Antarctic ice sheets behave in a future warmer world? Computer models are providing worrying projections.



Our ice sheet reconstruction and palaeoclimate results go hand-in-hand with model simulations of ice sheet change, enabling us to better understand the drivers of Antarctic ice dynamics. Led by Dr Nick Golledge, an Associate Professor at the University of Wellington, New Zealand, we are using the Parallel Ice Sheet Model (PISM) to obtain millennial-scale simulations of the ice sheets’ responses to external forcing. Capable of running at high resolution, PISM enables detailed estimates of ice flux and corresponding sea level contribution over time. Crucially, using the PISM to understand past changes in the Antarctic ice sheets, we are able to place late twentieth century changes into context, leading to more informed predictions about what’s to come.


It is critical to investigate the past dynamic response of different sectors of the Antarctic ice sheets to external forcing over millennia given the  short observational window with which  we are able to explore contemporary ice-sheet processes. Based on our ice sheet reconstruction from cosmogenic evidence we have investigated how changes at the oceanic margins of the Antarctic ice sheet in the Weddell Sea Embayment (WSE) may have impacted the Rutford and Institute ice streams, two of the eight major dynamic ice streams that sustain the extensive Ronne–Filchner Ice Shelf at the margin of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.  We have examined our geological ice-sheet constraints with new high-resolution palaeo-ice-sheet model simulations to understand the drivers of ice-sheet change and the response of the ice streams to ocean forcing during the transition between the glacial and interglacial world, thus improving our understanding of ice dynamical responses to ocean change.


Other key collaborators: Steven Phipps (Australian Antarctic Division and University of Tasmania),


If you would like to learn more, check out some of our recent research papers:


Golledge, N.R., Thomas, Z.A., Levy, R.H., Gasson, E.G.W., Naish, T.R., McKay, R.M., Kowalewski, D.E., Fogwill, C.J. (2016) Antarctic climate and ice sheet configuration during a peak-warmth Early Pliocene interglacial. Climate of the Past Discussions 2016, 1-27.


Golledge, N.R., Kowalewski, D.E., Naish, T.R., Levy, R.H., Fogwill, C.J., Gasson, E.G.W. (2015) The multi-millennial Antarctic commitment to future sea-level rise. Nature 526, 421-425.


Phipps, S.J., Fogwill, C.J. and Turney, C.S.M. (2016) Impacts of marine instability across the East Antarctic Ice Sheet on Southern Ocean dynamics. The Cryosphere, 10, 2317-2328. doi: 10.5194/tc-10-2317-2016.


Fogwill, C.J., Phipps, S.J., Turney, C.S.M., Golledge, N.R. (2015) Sensitivity of the Southern Ocean to enhanced regional Antarctic ice sheet meltwater input. Earth's Future, 2015EF000306.


Jones, R.S., Mackintosh, A.N., Norton, K.P., Golledge, N.R., Fogwill, C.J., Kubik, P.W., Christl, M., Greenwood, S.L. (2015) Rapid Holocene thinning of an East Antarctic outlet glacier driven by marine ice sheet instability. Nature Communications 6, 8910.


Golledge, N.R., Menviel, L., Carter, L., Fogwill, C.J., England, M.H., Cortese, G., Levy, R.H. (2014) Antarctic contribution to Meltwater Pulse 1A from reduced Southern Ocean overturning. Nature Communications 5, 5107, doi: 5110.1038/ncomms6107.


Fogwill, C.J., Turney, C.S.M., Meissner, K.J., Golledge, N.R., Spence, P., Roberts, J.L., England, M.H., Jones, R.T., and Carter, L. (2014) Testing the sensitivity of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet to Southern Ocean dynamics: past changes and future implications. Journal of Quaternary Science, 29, 91-98.


Golledge, N.R., Levy, R.H., McKay, R.M., Fogwill, C.J., White, D.A., Graham, A.G., Smith, J.A., Hillenbrand, C.-D., Licht, K.J., Denton, G.H. (2013) Glaciology and geological signature of the Last Glacial Maximum Antarctic ice sheet. Quaternary Science Reviews 78, 225-247.


Golledge, N.R., Fogwill, C.J., Mackintosh, A.N., Buckley, K.M. (2012) Dynamics of the Last Glacial Maximum Antarctic ice-sheet and its response to ocean forcing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109, 16052–16056.