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Unravelling flow dynamics at glacier fronts: modelling and forecasting ice-cliff instability

Academic lead
Antonio Abellan (Earth and Environment)
Sam Pegler (Mathematics), Sandra Piazolo (Earth and Environment), Poul Christoffersen (University of Cambridge), Daniel Koehn (University of Glasgow)
Project themes
Environmental Flows, Geophysical flows, Particulate flows, sediments & rheology

This timely and interdisciplinary project will be applying a series of advanced techniques in flow mechanics in order to shed light on glacier dynamics strongly contributing to sea level rise. More specifically, this project seeks a better understanding of the processes that control and lead to mass loss at ice terminations. The fundamental interactions between ice viscoelastic flow, flow velocity, inherited anisotropies, frontal advance/retreat and rates of ice loss will be investigated. 

You will be using novel mathematical approaches, along with cutting-edge numerical modelling techniques to model differential glacier flow velocities and integrate key structural controls on glacier flow dynamics. These efforts will be informed by high-resolution experimental observations available to the student.  To do so, you will model the control of large-scale anisotropies on the progressive breaking of ice chunks from their edge, including the possibility to capture the key spatial-temporal linkages between rates of ice loss, flow velocity, surface lowering and frontal advance/retreat.  

The outcomes of this project will be of great interest not only in terms of a better understanding of glacier front dynamics, but also in terms of help refining global sea level rise scenarios. You will be using a variety of mathematical, numerical and analytical techniques in Fluid Dynamics, cryo-sciences and 3D observations that will considerably help develop your career. Publishing your results as first author in high impact scientific journals will be encouraged.

Figure: (a) glacier front and structural setting (crevasses) controlling ice flow and calving; (b) time lapse cameras installed in Store glacier, West Greenland and that will be used in this project for constraining glacier flow and calving; (c) example of Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) for analysing motion of real glaciers from images at the same glacier, as captured in a project led by project supervisors (Chudley et al., 2019).