06 Oct 2021

06 Oct 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Derivation of bedrock topography measurement requirements for the reduction of uncertainty in ice sheet model projections of Thwaites Glacier

Blake A. Castleman1,2, Nicole-Jeanne Schlegel1, Lambert Caron1, Eric Larour1, and Ala Khazendar1 Blake A. Castleman et al.
  • 1Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA
  • 2Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA, USA

Abstract. Determining the future evolution of the Antarctic Ice Sheet is critical for understanding and narrowing the large existing uncertainties in century-scale global mean sea level rise (SLR) projections. One of the most significant glaciers/ice streams in Antarctica, Thwaites Glacier, is at risk of destabilization and, if destabilized, has the potential to be the largest regional-scale contributor of SLR on Earth. This is because Thwaites Glacier is vulnerable to the marine ice sheet instability, as its grounding line is significantly influenced by ocean-driven basal melting rates, and its bedrock topography retrogrades into kilometer deep troughs. In this study, we investigate how bedrock topography features influence the grounding line migration beneath Thwaites Glacier when extreme ocean-driven basal melt rates are applied. Specifically, we design experiments using the Ice-Sheet and Sea-level System Model (ISSM) to quantify the SLR projection uncertainty due to reported errors in the current bedrock topography maps that are often used by ice sheet models. We find that spread in model estimates of sea level rise contribution from Thwaites glacier due to the reported bedrock topography error could be as large as 21.9 cm after 200 years of extreme ocean warming. Next, we perturb the bedrock topography beneath Thwaites Glacier using wavelet decomposition techniques to introduce realistic noise (within error). We explore the model space with multiple realizations of noise to quantify what spatial and vertical resolutions in bedrock topography are required to minimize the uncertainty in our 200-year experiment. We conclude that at least a 2 km spatial and 8 m vertical resolution would independently constrain possible SLR to ±2 cm over 200 years, fulfilling requirements outlined by the 2017 Decadal Survey for Earth Science. Lastly, we perform an ensemble of simulations to determine in which regions our model of Thwaites Glacier is most sensitive to perturbations in bedrock topography. Our results suggest that the retreat of the grounding line is most sensitive to bedrock topography in proximity to the grounding line's initial position. Additionally, we find that the location and amplitude of the bedrock perturbation is more significant than its sharpness and shape. Overall, these findings inform and benchmark observational requirements for future missions that will measure ice sheet bedrock topography, not only in the case of Thwaites Glacier but for Antarctica on the continental scale.

Blake A. Castleman et al.

Status: open (until 01 Dec 2021)

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Blake A. Castleman et al.

Model code and software

Ice-sheet and Sea-level System Model JPL Sea Level and Ice Group

Blake A. Castleman et al.


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Short summary
In the described study, we derive an uncertainty range for global mean SLR contribution from Thwaites Glacier in a 200 year period under an extreme ocean warming scenario. We also derive the spatial and vertical resolutions needed for bedrock data acquisition missions in order to limit global mean SLR contribution from Thwaites Glacier to ±2 cm in a 200-year period. Finally, we conduct sensitivity experiments in order to present the locations of critical regions in need of accurate mapping.