Project Team Moise

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Section: Application Domains

Glaciology

Participants : Eric Blayo, Bertrand Bonan, Bénédicte Lemieux-Dudon, Maëlle Nodet, Habib Toye Mahamadou Kele.

The study of past climate is a means of understanding climatic mechanisms. Drillings in polar ice sheets provide a huge amount of information on paleoclimates: correlation between greenhouse gases and climate, fast climatic variability during the last ice age, etc. However, in order to improve the quantitative use of the data from this archive, numerous questions remain to be answered because of phenomena occurring during and after the deposition of snow. An important research aim is therefore to optimally model ice sheets in the vicinity of drilling sites in order to improve their interpretation: age scale for the ice and for the gas bubbles, mechanical thinning, initial surface temperature and accumulation when snow is deposited, spatial origin of ice from the drilling.

In another respect, ice streams represent an important feature of ice flows since they account for most of the ice leaving the ice sheet (in Antarctic, one estimates that ice streams evacuate more than 70% of the ice mass in less than 10% of the coast line). Furthermore, recent observations showed that some important ice streams are presently accelerating. Thus, we seek to improve models of ice sheets, by developing data assimilation approaches in order to calibrate them using available observations.

Another objective is the evaluation of the state of the polar ice caps in the past, and their interactions with the other components of the earth climate, in order to forecast their evolution in the forthcoming centuries. The joint use of models and data, through data assimilation techniques, to improve system description is relatively new for the glaciological community. Therefore inverse methods have to be developed or adapted for this particular purpose.

By gaining and loosing mass, glaciers and ice-sheets are playing a key role in the sea level evolution. This is obvious when regarding past as, for example, collapse of the large northern hemisphere ice-sheets after the Last Glacial Maximum has contributed to an increase of 120 m of sea level. This is particularly worrying when the future is considered. Indeed, recent observations clearly indicate that important changes in the velocity structure of both Antarctic and Greenland ice-sheets are occurring, suggesting that large and irreversible changes may have been initiated. This has been clearly emphasized in the last report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). IPCC has further insisted on the poor current knowledge of the key processes at the root of the observed accelerations and finally concluded that reliable projections of sea-level rise are currently unavailable. In this context, our general aim is to develop data assimilation methods related to ice flow modelling purpose, in order to provide accurate and reliable estimation of the future contribution of ice-sheets to Sea Level Rise.

Development of ice flow adjoint models is by itself a scientific challenge. This new step forward is clearly motivated by the amount of data now available at both the local and the large scales.