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Surface meltwater on the polar ice sheets under a changing climate

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The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets hold enough water to raise global sea level by nearly 80 metres were they to melt away completely. While total loss of either ice sheet is unlikely in our lifetime, under current rates of climate change we can expect an ice-sheet contribution to sea level of around 10 cm by 2100; sufficient to double the number of people experiencing flooding worldwide. In addition to contributing directly to global sea level rise, ice sheet melting can act as a feedback to further accelerate ice loss and can impact the way in which we interpret spaceborne measurements of ice sheet volume change. As such, it is important that 1) estimates and predictions of ice sheet melting are well constrained and 2) that we have a good understanding of the interactions between the melt water and the solid ice. Melt water / ice-sheet interactions are particularly interesting as on its way out to sea, melt water passes through the supra- en- and sub-glacial environments where it can impact firn density, the thermal regime of the ice sheet and the way in which the ice slides over its bed. Here we will present an overview of recent work in this area, including a discussion on the role of temporary meltwater storage and the implications of this for ice sheet stability.

This talk is part of the Scott Polar Research Institute - Polar Physical Sciences Seminar series.

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