Ice2sea’s teams and structure

How will we achieve our objectives?

The various aspects of scientific research and the management and delivery of information are undertaken through six interrelated work packages: this makes for a unique opportunity for advancing science in a co-operative and interdisciplinary manner. Scientists working in all parts of the world and in a wide range of disciplines including glaciology, climate modeling and atmospheric and oceanic sciences co-operate in order to provide a comprehensive, circumspect and reliable analysis of future sea level evolution and its drivers. The structure of ice2sea which helps achieve this goal is outlined below, highlighting the interlinked and co-operative  nature of the groups, or work packages.

Programme Management

The management group at the British Antarctic Survey deals with the day-to-day management, communication and administration needs of ice2sea. This allows the scientists to focus fully on the scientific aims of the project, while ensuring that the programme’s deliverables are produced in a timely manner and are of the required highest standards.

Projections of Glacial Change

This work package is primarily concerned with improving our existing predictions for contributions to sea-level rise from land-based parts of the cryosphere over the next 200 years, both in terms of absolute numbers and the reliability of those numbers. This involves the development of new models and inter-comparison between different models to provide accurate estimates of uncertainty. Another aim is to identify potential thresholds in climatic change and sea-level rise which would commit us to even longer-term changes.

This work package is interacting heavily with most other work packages to deliver improved, comprehensive predictions of future sea-level rise. These predictions are then used by the Synthesis and Dissemination work package (see below).

Key Glacial Processes

The aim of this group is to build mathematical models to improve our understanding of the geophysical processes and interactions occurring in the cryosphere, and particularly in its land-based parts. The contribution of land-based ice is one of the most uncertain factors in the prediction of future sea-level changes, limiting our ability to produce accurate sea-level predictions. An improved understanding of the processes governing the shape and size of glaciers and ice sheets, and their response to changing climate, will help produce more reliable models forecasting the future development of the cryosphere and its contribution to sea levels.

This work package is thus not directly concerned with producing forecasts of future developments; much rather it contributes to the work of the Projections of Glacial Change (see above) by providing better understanding of the physical processes, and models of how glaciers and ice sheets work and respond to forcings.

Model Foundation and Validation

This team provides the observational and field-based data used by the Projections of Glacial Change work package in their modeling efforts. Extensive field programmes and remote sensing datasets are available in some locations for the group to build upon, but in many cases new ground will be broken where data gaps exist. The main focus will be on the decadal scale for which satellite data are available.

The main mission  of this work package is with the collection and provision of new data for the testing and running of models. One of the main projects involves the creation of a full inventory of all of the world’s glaciers (more than 200,000 overall), a sample size large enough to allow the use of statistical methods in their analysis. On the other hand, there are only two ice sheets, which therefore have to be analysed purely on a physical basis as the sample size is not large enough for statistics to be useful.

One of the sub-work packages here stands slightly apart from the rest of the team whose main objective is data collection. This sub-work package is a unique, interdisciplinary, and global-scale project concerned with near-polar ice caps (NPIC). These provide a middle ground between ice sheets and valley glaciers in several respects. Firstly, they are numerous (several thousands), but also diverse enough in both location and functioning that they cannot be studied as a homogenous group, necessitating a combination of statistical and physical methods. Secondly, their presence in both the Arctic and the Antarctic means that they tend to be studied by teams who normally interact very little, as the summer seasons for each of these groups, when field work is possible, are at opposite times of the year.

For what may well be the first ever time, ice2sea aims to bring these teams together to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and to drastically improve our understanding of the dynamics and behaviour of NPIC around the world.

Projection of Climate Forcing

The contribution of this work package to the overall aim of producing forecasts of glacier and ice-sheet development is to produce forecasts of future climatic, atmospheric and oceanic conditions. Output from the atmosphere-ocean global climate models (AOGCMs) and regional climate models (RCMs) used here is a vital input into the work done by the Projections of Glacial Change work package. AOGCMs can be used to drive glacier models, while RCMs are particularly relevant for ice sheets, which have their own microclimates and cannot be represented in sufficient detail and resolution by global-scale models. Mass changes can occur at the ice surface, where they are driven by atmospheric processes, or on the underside of floating ice shelves, in which case changes are driven by the oceans.

This group use atmospheric CO2, population, and economic scenarios outlined by the IPCC AR4 to derive accurate projections of climatic change over the next 200 years, to comply with ice2sea’s commitment to producing sea-level forecasts for the next two centuries. This is a century longer than most conventional models are run for, so even those models that have already produced useful output are run again, for this longer time scale.

Furthermore, as ice-sheets and ice-shelves lose mass, their geometry and exact shape will change – this group also works to understand the impact of the changing geometry and shape of ice sheets and ice shelves as they lose mass. These changes will have an impact on the future evolution of atmospheric and oceanic patterns and processes, which in turn control ice-sheet evolution in a cycle.

This group is highly interdisciplinary. It will benefit significantly from the work done on the modelling of processes such as mass-balance, calving rates, and grounding-line migration. It has produced output used for the Projections of Glacial Change work package, and they have also used that group’s results to further refine their own results.

Synthesis and Dissemination

This group integrates the results and findings from the work packages above in order to produce the most comprehensive predictions of regional and local sea-level rise yet produced.

The “cone of uncertainty”, the problem of cumulative uncertainty as uncertainty from one modeling step feeds into the next step and adds to uncertainty on that level, is an important problem in our understanding of the future development of atmospheric and oceanic conditions and the resulting ice-sheet and glacier configurations. Furthermore, general conclusions drawn from the findings of the project can aid our understanding of future thresholds in the evolution of ice sheets and global climate, and the possibility of extreme events.

Groups here also regionalises the findings of of the global modelling efforts, analyzing the effects of Glacial Isostatic Adjustment and the Earth’s crust deforming as a result of load redistribution when ice melts. This can cause changes in sea level to vary on a regional and even local scale.

This last work package therefore aims to assemble the results from the other work packages not just to disseminate the information directly but also to investigate the uncertainty implied by the sum of all the findings, as well as potential upper bounds for change which can inform policy decisions dealing with extreme events. The focus will particularly be on European coastlines and the changing return period of what is today a 100-year return-period storm surge; this information will be particularly relevant to coastal planners and civil engineers.

In addition, this work package is responsible for training the new generation of glaciologists, and for disseminating the results of the whole project to policy makers and the public.

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