iSTAR-C - Dynamical control on the response of Pine Island Glacier

Lead Research Organisation: NERC British Antarctic Survey
Department Name: Science Programmes

Abstract

It is expected that sea-level rise will impact coastal communities worldwide over the coming decades to centuries. In the UK, the vulnerability of coastal communities and assets is best characterised in terms of the likely frequency of the over-topping of sea-defences. For example, when they were built, the sea-defences for the city of London (including the Thames Barrier) were designed to protect London from all except the 1-in-1000 year flood event. A rise of 50 cm in global sea level will reduce this level of protection to 1-100 years, and a rise of 100 cm would reduce it to 1-in-10 years.

Pine Island Glacier is one of five glaciers in West Antarctica that are currently contributing sea-level rise at a significant and accelerating rate. The portion currently affected by thinning contains sufficient ice to raise global sea-level by around 25 cm - its neighbours account for another 50 cm.

Given the rate of ice-loss and the potential implications for sea-defence planning there is a clear requirement to understand and predict the future of Pine Island Glacier and its neighbours. However, as highlighted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007), understanding the way that dynamic changes are transmitted through the glaciers draining ice sheets is so poorly understood that the IPCC believed it was the least well understood, and potentially the largest, contribution to sea-level rise in the coming century.

ISTAR-C will directly address this lack of knowledge, by seeking to understand the processes that are responsible for transmitting the effect of thinning of the floating ice shelf, upstream such that thinning can now be seen on much of the trunk and tributaries of Pine Island Glacier.

ISTAR-C will also use the most up-to-date methods available to measure the properties (rock-type and water-content) of the bed beneath several locations on Pine Island Glacier to determine their influence on the propagation of thinning. We will test the hypothesis that it is these bed conditions that are responsible for the fact that the tributaries of Pine Island Glacier appear to be thinning at different rates. Testing this hypothesis will give us a much better understanding on which to predict the future magnitudes of ice-thinning rates for the glacier.

To achieve these objectives we will collect data from Pine Island Glacier during two field seasons. These will include precise measurement of variations in ice-flow from the ice-shelf up the glacier and into its tributaries. We will image the bed of the glacier using radar and seismic techniques, and use satellite remote sensing to measure the changing configuration of the glacier in areas that cannot be accessed on the ground. We will use the data we have collected to drive and verify a set of computer simulations of the dynamics of Pine Island Glacier. Each of these will test a particular aspect of the glacier flow, and allow us to test our current knowledge and hypotheses against real data. The models that emerge from the exercise will be demonstrably more reliable in simulating past changes on the glacier, and thus have reduced uncertainty in predicting the future evolution of such changes, and the consequential contribution to sea-level rise.

Overall, this programme will deliver significant improvements in understanding of how glaciers in general interact with their beds, and very specific lessons about one of the most rapidly-changing and significant glaciers on the planet, Pine Island Glacier.

Planned Impact

The research undertaken in iSTAR-C will improve understanding of the causes of rapid change observed in parts of the West Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS) and how these may contribute to sea-level rise in future. While production of sea-level rise projections is not included within iSTAR-C, this programme will deliver understanding that underpins such projections, and will reduce uncertainty, and increase confidence, in those projections. Thus, the most significant economic and societal impacts of iSTAR-C will be realised as the science outcomes from iSTAR-C are taken up by beneficiaries beyond the immediate colleagues of the Co-Is; there are researchers and non-research scientists and engineers, who are directly undertaking sea-level rise projections.

Within this group we identify several key beneficiaries who will be users of iSTAR-C outcomes.

1. Academic researchers: (e.g. Proudman Oceanographic Institute, UK Climate Impacts Programme) who have a role in producing local, regional and global sea-level projections, and delivering to users.

2. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC is by far the most influential group synthesising and delivering sea-level rise projections to policy-makers.

3. Governmental and non-governmental advisors. (E.g. Dept. of Energy and Climate Change, UK Environment Agency) closely monitor science regarding sea-level protection and are influential in bringing science in the agenda of policy-makers.
Engaging with these and similar groups will maximise the value of iSTAR-C.

In an even wider frame, iSTAR-C and projects like it, which seek to improve the underlying science on which we base our projections of future state of the planet, should play an important role in re-establishing public confidence in science. The nature of the iSTAR-C programme, which focuses on an exciting work in an inspiring area, and on current and unarguable changes in the Earth System, will draw the attention of many people not normally turned on by science. This will give iSTAR-C a great opportunity to engage with individuals and we will not squander this opportunity. We will seek to present and frame iSTAR-C outcomes without policy-prescriptive implications, but in a spirit of informing rational evidence-based debate. We will seek a dialogue with groups and individuals who share this goal.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Antarctic Painting 
Description A acrylic painting of around 0.4 x 0.3 by Irene Wilkes, produced in support of a talk in the 'Pint of Science' series given by David Vaughan Tue 24/05/2016 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact None 
URL https://www.artfinder.com/artist/irene-wilkes/
 
Title UK Stamps 
Description The iSTAR programme, which is looking at the stability of Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica, is featured in a new set of British Antarctic Territory postage stamps. Four stamps have been printed showing different aspects of the programme's first science season. They will be on sale at British research stations in Antarctica and the Falkland Islands. One stamps features a photo taken by the PI. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact Its a stamp! 
URL https://www.bas.ac.uk/media-post/stamp-of-approval-for-istar-2/
 
Description Progress on understanding the recent changes on Pine Island Glacier has been made as part of the iSTAR programme. In particular, iSTAR-C has identified highly dissimilar bed conditions beneath the tributataries of Pine Island Glacier and these differences in large part explain the varied responses of the tributaries is to forcing on the floating ice.

- Obtained the data to allow the first quantitative assessment of the description of the bed PIG which will assist modelling
- It has produced the first images of the subglacial landscape beneath an Antarctic ice stream, and shown how the bed interacts with ice flow.
- Hi-resolution ice-sheet modelling is currently underway to show the way that the short-scale features influence ice flow.
- Modelling of the glacier is underway, to make projections of future ice dynamics and it's possible contribution to sea-level rise.
Exploitation Route The outcome of the fieldwork will feed several modelling activities that are currently underway by the partners. In time, the results will be of value to the wider ice-sheet modelling community, and provide crucial tests for models.

It is intended that the results of this project feed into assessment of the magnitude and causes of change on Pine Island Glacier and through the West Antarctic ice sheet. That's informing projections of future global sea level rise.
Sectors Environment

URL http://www.istar.ac.uk
 
Description The project has generated considerable media and general interest within the iSTAR programme. - A briefing for parliamentarians has been arranged through the All-party Polar Group, for 2017. - The proposal by DG Vaughan to the NERC SPAG group, eventually morphed into the NSF/NERC Joint call for work on Thwaites Glacier is directly attributable to work done on this proposal
Sector Environment
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description APPG presentation Tue 10/05/2016 15:30 (Houses of Parliament)
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
 
Description Institute of Physics - co-sponsorship of meeting
Amount £1,000 (GBP)
Organisation Institute of Physics (IOP) 
Sector Learned Society
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2016 
End 03/2016
 
Description Royal Society GERC - support for collaborative meeting
Amount £5,000 (GBP)
Organisation The Royal Society 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2016 
End 03/2016
 
Description Royal Society GERC - support for collaborative meeting
Amount £5,000 (GBP)
Organisation The Royal Society 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2016 
End 03/2016
 
Title iSTAR-C field data 
Description Various seismic, radar, GPS Data collected during the iStar traverses has been acquired installed on the iStar Data repository. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact These are unique data acquired from the key glacier in West Antarctica, they will be of lasting value to the glaciological community 
URL http://www.istar.ac.uk
 
Description Manangement of NERC's iSTAR programme 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution An IceSheets programme member has managed the iSTAR programme for NERC and we derived considerable collaborative value from this
Collaborator Contribution Contractual relationship
Impact Reported elsewhere
Start Year 2010
 
Description Thwaites Glacier Collaboration 
Organisation National Science Foundation (NSF)
Country United States 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution As a result of iSTAR D Vaughan and others have had a key role in the proposal and development of the upcoming Thwaites Glacier collaboration between the UK NERC and US NSF. This is a major programme involving 24 institutions, and 9 significant research programmes
Collaborator Contribution Workshop led by iSTAR-C at the Royal Society in 2016, was significant in developing and demonstrating the partnership.NE/L013770 David Vaughan is now co-PI in an NSF award to provide Science Coordination to the Thwaites Programme now called, the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration
Impact The award of grants by NSF and NERC are the first steps towards impact
Start Year 2015
 
Description Thwaites Glacier Collaboration 
Organisation University of Colorado
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution As a result of iSTAR D Vaughan and others have had a key role in the proposal and development of the upcoming Thwaites Glacier collaboration between the UK NERC and US NSF. This is a major programme involving 24 institutions, and 9 significant research programmes
Collaborator Contribution Workshop led by iSTAR-C at the Royal Society in 2016, was significant in developing and demonstrating the partnership.NE/L013770 David Vaughan is now co-PI in an NSF award to provide Science Coordination to the Thwaites Programme now called, the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration
Impact The award of grants by NSF and NERC are the first steps towards impact
Start Year 2015
 
Description APPG 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact All-Party Parliamentary Group for Polar Regions
Climate change in the polar regions - how bad is it?
Committee Room 11, Palace of Westminster, 16:00-17:00, Tuesday, 10 May 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Briefing for the President of Mauritius 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact DG Vaughan gave a lecture to the President of Mauritius' guests in the State House of Mauritius. The impact of sea-level rise was discussed and the role of iSTAR
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.govmu.org/English/News/Pages/Talk-on-Climate-Change-by-Professor-Vaughan.aspx
 
Description COP-22 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact DG Vaughan gave a presentation and chaired a debate in a side meeting at the COP Meeting in Bonn. The audience included former president of an island nation, and indigenous peoples representatives.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.bas.ac.uk/media-post/bas-scientists-at-2017-cop23-climate-event-in-bonn/
 
Description Gordon Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited talk and debate to high-level Scientific audience
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Graphene summer school 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact This keynote presentation by Prof David Vaughan was given to the graphene summer school.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description New Scientist Live 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation by DG Vaughan at the New Scientist Live exhibition at 22-25 September, London Exel Centre on a main stage to an audience of around 200
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://live.newscientist.com/david-vaughan/
 
Description Oates 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk by DG Vaughan to Gilbert White and Oates Museum, Thu 27/04/2017 20:30
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.gilbertwhiteshouse.org.uk/event/hidden-face-antarctica/
 
Description Open talk at the Grantham Institute 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This open talk was given at the Grantham Institute to a mixed audience of general public and scientists
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Parliamentary Briefing APPG 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Parliamentary briefing on sea level and its impact on UK coastlines, 'Can London Survive the melting ice sheets?'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://twitter.com/APPGPolar
 
Description pint of sci 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk given to the Pint of Science (PoS) festival in Cambridge (23rd-25th May) by David VAughan
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016