Modeling the Fracture of Ice Sheets on Parallel Computers


Ice Sheet Cracking

Ice Sheet Cracking

The objective of this project is to investigate the complex fracture of ice and understand its role within larger ice sheet simulations and global climate change. At the present time, ice fracture is not explicitly considered within ice sheet models due in part to large computational costs associated with the accurate modeling of this complex phenomena. However, fracture not only plays an extremely important role in regional behavior but also influences ice dynamics over much larger zones in ways that are currently not well understood. Dramatic illustrations of fracture-induced phenomena most notably include the recent collapse of ice shelves in Antarctica (e.g. partial collapse of the Wilkins shelf in March of 2008 and the diminishing extent of the Larsen B shelf from 1998 to 2002). Other fracture examples include ice calving (fracture of icebergs) which is presently approximated in simplistic ways within ice sheet models, and the draining of supraglacial lakes through a complex network of cracks, a so called ice sheet plumbing system, that is believed to cause accelerated ice sheet flows due essentially to lubrication of the contact surface with the ground. These dramatic changes are emblematic of the ongoing change in the Earth's polar regions and highlight the important role of fracturing ice.

To model ice fracture, a simulation capability will be designed centered around extended finite elements and solved by specialized multigrid methods on parallel computers. In addition, appropriate dynamic load balancing techniques will be employed to ensure an approximate equal amount of work for each processor.

Project Highlights