Science and Engineering

Oregon State University

Jonathan Nash, Erin Pettit, Eric Skyllingstad, Meagan Wengrove
Corvallis, OR
June 2020

Much uncertainty in predicting future sea-level stems from challenges in understanding the physics that controls melt-rates and stability of ice sheets, ice shelves, and tidewater glaciers.  One particular area of interest is the melting of the dangerously unstable ice cliffs that form the boundary where marine-terminating glaciers meet the relatively warm ocean.  Recent remotely sensed observations highlight the importance of the problem by uncovering a hundredfold discrepancy between measured and predicted total ice melt at an Alaskan glacier.  Importantly, the reasons for this mismatch are unknown: the physics is not well enough understood because measurements at ice-ocean interfaces have never been made.

In this project, Nash, Pettit, Wengrove, and Skyllingstad hypothesize that details of the millimeter-scale turbulent dynamics that connect the warm open ocean to the ice face are directly responsible for the increased ice melt through exploding air bubbles; flow-interface feedback; and, sudden, small-scale fracturing.  The goal here is to transform our understanding of ice-melt dynamics by making the first direct observations of small-scale turbulence and ice-melt morphology at a real ice-ocean interface.  To achieve this, a diverse team of ocean- and glacier scientists, skilled technical and engineering support staff, and students at Oregon State University will develop an advanced robotic system – the Glacier Ice Lander.  This underwater vehicle will be the first ever to land on the face of an actively-calving glacier to make detailed observations of the millimeter-scale processes that control ice melt and glacier stability.  Observations will be integrated using high-resolution modeling.  By linking the energetics of the small-scale physics to the large-scale glacier melt dynamics, parameterizations of glacier melt will become dynamically consistent and produce more accurate projections of global sea level rise.

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