Characterizing interactions between ice sheets, solid Earth and sea level by observations, data assimilation and coupled modelling

The evolution of the large ice sheets and the Earth’s rheology control the process of glacial isostatic adjustment, while bedrock topography and geothermal heat flux have strong feedbacks on ice sheet dynamics. For changing climates, this interplay exerts a fundamental control on the global and regional sea level and, in turn, influences ice sheet stability.

In this session, we focus on feedback mechanisms between climate relevant components, such as ice sheets, ice shelves, solid Earth, oceans and atmosphere (e.g., as in the German Climate modelling initiative PalMod). We invite global, regional and conceptual studies that consider reconstructions of the past and/or estimates of future ice sheet evolution in fields related to the climate system dynamics of glacial processes (the cryosphere, geosphere, oceanography, climatology, geodesy and geomorphology). In particular, we welcome studies of recent and paleo observations (geodetic, geological, geophysical), coupled numerical modelling and strategies, data-constrained model calibration and data assimilation.

Co-organized by CL4/G3/GD8/GM7
Convener: Meike BaggeECSECS | Co-conveners: Torsten Albrecht, Evelyn PowellECSECS, Kira Rehfeld, Ricarda Winkelmann
vPICO presentations
| Thu, 29 Apr, 15:30–17:00 (CEST)

vPICO presentations: Thu, 29 Apr

Chairpersons: Meike Bagge, Torsten Albrecht, Evelyn Powell
Tamara Pico

Although understanding the response of ice sheets to a changing climate is a pressing issue of this century, our current knowledge of past ice-sheet changes remains limited by data sparsity. I explore approaches that leverage non-traditional datasets to constrain past ice sheet and sea-level change over the last glacial cycle. For example, I consider the potential to use past landscapes to infer crustal deformation induced by ice sheet loading. Over the ice-age, glacial isostatic adjustment produces rates of uplift comparable to some of the fastest tectonic uplift rates (~10 mm/yr) in regions hundreds of kilometers away from the maximum ice sheet extent. Additionally, I show it is possible to gain insight into longer-term continental scale ice sheet deglacial histories using small-scale ice stream dynamics. Using records for a rapid retreat of the Amundsen Gulf Ice Stream, located on the northwest Laurentide Ice Sheet, along with observations of the Bering Strait flooding as sea-level indicators, I fingerprint the timing and location of North American saddle deglaciation.

How to cite: Pico, T.: Leveraging non-traditional evidence for glacial isostatic adjustment to constrain past ice sheets, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-751,, 2021.

Schmitty B. Thompson and Jessica R. Creveling

Reconstructions of global mean sea level (GMSL) through interstadials such as Marine Isotope Stages (MIS) 5a and 5c provide important constraints on the rates of growth and collapse of major ice sheets during warm periods analogous to future climate projections. These reconstructions rely upon precisely dated geomorphic and sedimentological indicators for past sea level whose present elevations are complicated by tectonics and glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA). Compilations of MIS 5a and 5c paleo-sea level indicators that covering a wide geographic range can be used to minimize misfit with glacial isostatic adjustment models and thereby quantify and refine the convolved contribution of GMSL to the present elevation of paleo-shoreline indicators. Here we present a global compilation of previously published Marine Isotope Stages 5a and 5c local sea level indicators from 39 sites covering three main regions: the Pacific coast of North America, the Atlantic coast of North America and the Caribbean, and far field. We describe the standardized entry of these data into the World Atlas of Last Interglacial Shorelines (WALIS) database. Each entry within the MIS 5a and 5c WALIS database reproduces from the primary literature the indicator elevation, indicative meaning, and geochronology, along with a comprehensive overview of the literature for each site. While MIS 5a and 5c indicators sites are geographically widespread, these data are also patchy and preferentially represent the North American continent and the Caribbean and, hence, regions intermediate and far afield of the contemporaneous ice sheets. While this dataset will support future refinements to MIS 5a and 5c GMSL reconstructions arising from GIA modeling, it also motivates further data collection.

How to cite: Thompson, S. B. and Creveling, J. R.: A Standardized Database of Marine Isotope Stage 5a and 5c Paleo-Shoreline Indicators, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-16399,, 2021.

Volker Klemann, Eva Boergens, and Meike Bagge

Glacial-isostatic adjustment (GIA) models simulate the viscoelastic response of the solid earth due to loading. During the last glacial maximum, large areas in the northern and southern hemisphere were covered by km-thick ice sheets. Although most of the ice has been melted already 8,000 year ago, the time-delayed response of the viscoelastic earth is still a significant contribution to present-day uplift rates. The implementation of GIA models in global climate models is an essential part of the current research. Hereby, the choice of an appropriate earth structure in the GIA model plays an important role and has to be constrained by observational data.

Here, we apply present-day uplift data to constrain a set of GIA models that differ in 3D earth structure. To this end, these different GIA models are validated against GPS uplift rates provided by Schumacher et al. (2019). The GPS stations are globally distributed and not necessarily clustered in regions with strong GIA signal. For validation, regions with the largest gradient present in the GIA signal are most crucial. Thus, we use a weighting scheme, where those GPS stations get a higher weight that are less correlated to all other stations. Additionally, uncertainties in the GPS rates appear due to the length of the GPS time series and due to station specifics such as the used GPS receiver, and are provided together with the rates as standard deviations. Thence, the weighting used for the validation is the sum of the correlation derived weights and the uncertainty derived weights.

With this weighting in place, different GIA models can be validated against present day uplift rates by means of root mean square errors or mean absolute error.

How to cite: Klemann, V., Boergens, E., and Bagge, M.: Validating GIA models based on an ensemble of 3D Earth structures with present-day GPS uplift rates, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-9558,, 2021.

Fred Richards, Sophie Coulson, Jacqueline Austermann, Mark Hoggard, and Jerry Mitrovica

Much of our understanding of ice sheet sensitivity to climatic forcing is derived from palaeoshoreline records of past sea-level. However, the present-day elevations of these sea-level markers reflect the integrated effect of both ice volume change and solid Earth processes. Accurately quantifying the latter contribution is therefore essential for making reliable inferences of past ice volume. While uncertainties associated with glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA) can be mitigated by focusing on sites far from ice sheets, the same is not true for mantle flow-driven dynamic topography, which is ubiquitous and can generate vertical motions of ~±100 m on million-year timescales. As a result, improved knowledge of the spatio-temporal evolution of this transient topography is required to refine constraints on ice sheet stability and to guide modelling of future trajectories.

Since the shortest wavelength and fastest evolving contributions to dynamic topography originate in the shallow mantle, reconstructing dynamic topography over 1–10 Myr timescales requires accurate models of Earth’s lithosphere and asthenosphere. Here, we construct these models by mapping upper mantle shear wave velocities from high-resolution surface wave tomographic models into thermomechanical structure using calibrated parameterisations of anelasticity at seismic frequency. Resulting numerical predictions of present-day dynamic topography are in good agreement with residual depth measurements, with particularly good fits obtained around Australia. In this region, predicted temperatures are also compatible with palaeogeotherms extracted from xenolith suites, indicating that present-day upper mantle structure is well characterised and that numerical “retrodictions” of vertical motions are more likely to be reliable. In addition, Australia is sufficiently distant from major ice sheets that uncertainty in GIA contributions to sea-level change are relatively small. These considerations, combined with new compilations of continent-wide sea-level indicators, make Australia a particularly promising location for separating out ice volume-driven global mean sea-level changes from local sea-level variations related to vertical land motions and gravitational effects.

By back-advecting density perturbations from an ensemble of Earth models, we demonstrate that ~±200 m relative sea-level changes across Australia since the Mid-Pliocene Warm Period (MPWP; ∼3 Ma) can be tied directly to changes in dynamic topography. Significantly, after removing this signal from observed relative sea-level changes,  a consistent global mean sea-level during the MPWP of 12±8 m above present is obtained, towards the lower end of previous estimates.

How to cite: Richards, F., Coulson, S., Austermann, J., Hoggard, M., and Mitrovica, J.: Correcting Late Cenozoic Sea-Level Records for Dynamic Topography: Examples from Australia, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-12420,, 2021.

Reyko Schachtschneider, Jan Saynisch-Wagner, Volker Klemann, Meike Bagge, and Maik Thomas

We suggest to apply data assimilation in glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA) to constrain the mantle viscosity structure based on sea level observations. We apply the Parallel Data Assimilation Framework (PDAF) to assimilate sea level data into the time-domain spectral-finite element code VILMA in order to obtain better estimates of the mantle viscosity structure. In a first step, we reduce to a spherically symmetric earth structure and prescribe the glaciation history. A particle filter is used to propagate an ensemble of models in time. At epochs when observations are available, each particle's performance is estimated and the particles are resampled based on their performance to form a new ensemble that better resembles the true viscosity distribution.

Using this algorithm, we show the ability to recover mantle viscosities from a set of synthetic relative sea level observations. Those synthetic observations are obtained from a reference run with a given viscosity structure that defines the target viscosity values in our experiments. The viscosity estimation is applied to a three-layer model with an elastic lithosphere and two mantle layers, and to a multi-layer model with a smoother viscosity profile. We use various subsets of realistic observation locations (e.g. only observations from Fennoscandia) and show that it is possible to obtain the target viscosity values in those cases. We also vary the time from which observations are available to evolve the test cases towards a realistic scenario for the availability of relative sea level observations. The most relevant cases start at 26.5ka BP and at 10ka BP as they mark the beginning of the maximum glaciation and the end of deglaciation with a larger amount of observations following, respectively, and end at present day.

How to cite: Schachtschneider, R., Saynisch-Wagner, J., Klemann, V., Bagge, M., and Thomas, M.: Inferring mantle viscosity through data assimilation of relative sea level observations in a glacial isostatic adjustment model, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-1261,, 2021.

Surendra Adhikari, Erik Ivins, Eric Larour, Lambert Caron, and Helene Seroussi

Polar ice sheets are important components of the Earth System.  As the geometries of land, ocean, and ice sheets evolve, they must be consistently captured within the lexicon of geodesy.  Understanding the interplay between the processes such as ice-sheet dynamics, solid-Earth deformation, and sea-level adjustment requires both geodetically consistent and mass conserving descriptions of evolving land and ocean domains, grounded ice sheets and floating ice shelves, and their respective interfaces. Here we present mathematical descriptions of a generic level set that can be used to track both the grounding lines and coastlines, in light of ice-ocean mass exchange and complex feedbacks from the solid Earth and sea level. We next present a unified method to accurately compute the sea-level contribution of evolving ice sheets based on the change in ice thickness, bedrock elevation and mean sea level caused by any geophysical processes. Our formalism can be applied to arbitrary geometries and at all time scales. While it can be used for applications with modeling, observations and the combination of two, it is best suited for Earth System models, comprising ice sheets, solid Earth and sea level, that seek to conserve mass.

© 2020 California Institute of Technology. Government sponsorship is acknowledged.

How to cite: Adhikari, S., Ivins, E., Larour, E., Caron, L., and Seroussi, H.: A kinematic formalism for tracking ice-ocean mass exchange on the Earth's surface and estimating sea-level change , EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-14164,, 2021.

Paul Gierz, Lars Ackermann, Christian Rodehacke, Uta Krebs-Kanzow, Christian Stepanek, Dirk Barbi, and Gerrit Lohmann

Interactions between the climate and the cryosphere have the potential to induce strong non-linear transitions in the Earth's climate. These interactions influence both the atmospheric circulation, by changing the ice sheet's geometry, as well as the oceanic circulation, by modification of the water mass properties. Furthermore, the waxing and waning of large continental ice sheets influences the global albedo, altering the energy balance of the Earth System and inducing climate-ice sheet feedbacks on a global scale as evident in Pleistocene glacial-interglacial cycles. To date, few fully
comprehensive models exist, that do not only contain a coupled atmosphere/land/ocean component, but also consider interactive cryosphere physics. Yet, on glacial-interglacial and tectonic time scales, as well as in the Anthropocene, ice sheets are not in equilibrium with the climate, and prescribed fixed ice sheet representations in the model can principally be only an approximation to reality. Only climate models, that contain interactive ice sheets, can produce simulations of the Earth's climate which include all feedbacks and processes related to atmosphere-land-ocean-ice interactions. Previous fully coupled models were limited either by low spatial resolution or an incomplete representation of ice sheet processes, such as iceberg calving, surface ablation processes, and ocean/ice-shelf interactions. Here, we present the newly developed AWI-Earth System Model (AWI-ESM), which tackles some of these problems. Our modelling toolbox is based on the AWI-climate model, including atmosphere and vegetation components suitable for paleoclimate studies, a multi-resolution global ocean component which can be refined to simulate regions of interest at high resolution, and an ice sheet component suitable for simulating both ice sheet and ice shelf dynamics and thermodynamics. We describe the currently implemented coupling between these components, present first results for the Mid-Holocene and Last Interglacial, and introduce further ideas for scientific applications for both future and past climate states with a focus on the Northern Hemisphere. Finally, we provide an outlook on the potential of such fully coupled Earth System models in improving representation of climate-ice sheet feedbacks in future paleoclimate studies with this model.

How to cite: Gierz, P., Ackermann, L., Rodehacke, C., Krebs-Kanzow, U., Stepanek, C., Barbi, D., and Lohmann, G.: Simulating Interactive Ice Sheets in the Multi-Resolution AWI-ESM: A case study using the SCOPE Coupler, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-15682,, 2021.

Meike Bagge, Volker Klemann, Bernhard Steinberger, Milena Latinović, and Maik Thomas

The interaction between ice sheets and the solid Earth plays an important role for ice-sheet stability and sea-level change and hence for global climate models. Glacial-isostatic adjustment (GIA) models enable simulation of the solid Earth response due to variations in ice-sheet and ocean loading and prediction of the relative sea-level change. Because the viscoelastic response of the solid Earth depends on both ice-sheet distribution and the Earth’s rheology, independent constraints for the Earth structure in GIA models are beneficial. Seismic tomography models facilitate insights into the Earth’s interior, revealing lateral variability of the mantle viscosity that allows studying its relevance in GIA modeling. Especially, in regions of low mantle viscosity, the predicted surface deformations generated with such 3D GIA models differ considerably from those generated by traditional GIA models with radially symmetric structures. But also, the conversion from seismic velocity variations to viscosity is affected by a set of uncertainties. Here, we apply geodynamically constrained 3D Earth structures. We analyze the impact of conversion parameters (reduction factor in Arrhenius law and radial viscosity profile) on relative sea-level predictions. Furthermore, we focus on exemplary low-viscosity regions like the Cascadian subduction zone and southern Patagonia, which coincide with significant ice-mass changes.

How to cite: Bagge, M., Klemann, V., Steinberger, B., Latinović, M., and Thomas, M.: 3D glacial-isostatic adjustment models using geodynamically constrained Earth structures, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-13479,, 2021.

Parviz Ajourlou, François PH Lapointe, Glenn A Milne, and Yasmina Martos

Geothermal heat flux (GHF) is known to be an important control on the basal thermal state of an ice sheet which, in turn, is a key factor in governing how the ice sheet will evolve in response to a given climate forcing. In recent years, several studies have estimated GHF beneath the Greenland ice sheet using different approaches (e.g. Rezvanbehbahani et al., Geophysical Research Letters, 2017; Martos et al., Geophysical Research Letters, 2018; Greve, Polar Data Journal, 2019). Comparing these different estimates indicates poor agreement and thus large uncertainty in our knowledge of this important boundary condition for modelling the ice sheet. The primary aim of this study is to quantify the influence of this uncertainty on modelling the past evolution of the ice sheet with a focus on the most recent deglaciation. We build on past work that considered three GHF models (Rogozhina et al., 2011) by considering over 100 different realizations of this input field. We use the uncertainty estimates from Martos et al. (Geophysical Research Letters, 2018) to generate GHF realisations via a statistical sampling procedure. A sensitivity analysis using these realisations and the Parallel Ice Sheet Model (PISM, Bueler and Brown, Journal of Geophysical Research, 2009) indicates that uncertainty in GHF has a dramatic impact on both the volume and spatial distribution of ice since the last glacial maximum, indicating that more precise constraints on this boundary condition are required to improve our understanding of past ice sheet evolution and, consequently, reduce uncertainty in future projections.

How to cite: Ajourlou, P., PH Lapointe, F., A Milne, G., and Martos, Y.: The effect of geothermal heat flux on the deglacial evolution of the Greenland ice sheet, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-13647,, 2021.

Maria Zeitz, Jan Haacker, Jonathan Donges, and Ricarda Winkelmann

Mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet has significantly accelerated over the past decades, both through enhanced melting as well as the acceleration of outlet glaciers. Positive feedback mechanisms, including the melt-elevation feedback and the ice-albedo feedback, introduce a non- linear evolution and may further accelerate mass loss. Negative feedbacks, such as the feedback between receding ice load and subsequent bedrock uplift, might counteract these accelerating positive feedbacks on long timescales. Bedrock uplift can amount to roughly one third of the change in the ice sheet thickness on a timescale of millennia. Here we explore the interplay of both positive and negative feedbacks, using simulations of the Greenland Ice Sheet with the Parallel Ice Sheet Model (PISM) including an Elastic Lithosphere Relaxing Asthenosphere (ELRA) model in an idealized warming scenario. In particular, we find that depending on the temperature anomaly (and thus the ice retreat rate) and the asthenosphere viscosity, distinct responses of the ice sheet are possible, ranging from the full or partial retreat of the ice sheet to the full or partial recovery of the ice sheet after an initial retreat, and potential large-scale self-sustained oscillations of ice volume on multi- millennial timescales.

How to cite: Zeitz, M., Haacker, J., Donges, J., and Winkelmann, R.: Long-term ice loss from Greenland mediated by ice-load bedrock uplift feedback, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-16554,, 2021.

Alan Aitken, Lu Li, Bernd Kulessa, Thomas Jordan, Joanne Whittaker, Sridhar Anandakrishnan, Jamin Greenbaum, Dustin Schroeder, Philippa Whitehouse, Olaf Eisen, and Martin Siegert

Subglacial and ice-sheet marginal sedimentary basins have very different physical properties to crystalline bedrock and, therefore, form distinct conditions that influence the flow of ice above. Sedimentary rocks are particularly soft and erodible, and therefore capable of sustaining layers of subglacial till that may deform to facilitate fast ice flow downstream. Furthermore, sedimentary rocks are relatively permeable and thus allow for enhanced fluid flux, with associated impacts on ice-sheet dynamics, including feedbacks with subglacial hydrologic systems and transport of heat to the ice-sheet bed. Despite the importance for ice-sheet dynamics there is, at present, no comprehensive record of sedimentary basins in the Antarctic continent, limiting our capacity to investigate these influences. Here we develop the first version of an Antarctic-wide spatial database of sedimentary basins, their geometries and physical attributes. We emphasise the definition of in-situ and undeformed basins that retain their primary characteristics, including relative weakness and high permeability, and therefore are more likely to influence ice sheet dynamics. We define the likely extents and nature of sedimentary basins, considering a range of geological and geophysical data, including: outcrop observations, gravity and magnetic data, radio-echo sounding data and passive and active-source seismic data. Our interpretation also involves derivative products from these data, including analyses guided by machine learning. The database includes for each basin its defining characteristics in the source datasets, and interpreted information on likely basin age, sedimentary thickness, surface morphology and tectonic type. The database is constructed in ESRI geodatabase format and is suitable for incorporation in multifaceted data-interpretation and modelling procedures. It can be readily updated given new information. We define extensive basins in both East and West Antarctica, including major regions in the Ross and Weddell Sea embayments and the Amundsen Sea region of West Antarctica, and the Wilkes, Aurora and Recovery subglacial basins of East Antarctica. The compilation includes smaller basins within crystalline-bedrock dominated areas such as the Transantarctic Mountains, the Antarctic Peninsula and Dronning Maud Land. The distribution of sedimentary basins reveals the combined influence of the tectonic and glacial history of Antarctica on the current and future configuration of the Antarctic Ice Sheet and highlights areas in which the presence of dynamically-evolving subglacial till layers and the exchange of groundwater and heat with the ice sheet bed  are more likely, contributing to dynamic behaviour of the Antarctic Ice Sheet.  

How to cite: Aitken, A., Li, L., Kulessa, B., Jordan, T., Whittaker, J., Anandakrishnan, S., Greenbaum, J., Schroeder, D., Whitehouse, P., Eisen, O., and Siegert, M.: Antarctic Sedimentary Basins: defining crucial constraints on ice-sheet and solid-earth dynamic interactions, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-6997,, 2021.

Caroline van Calcar, Bas de Boer, Bas Blank, Roderik van de Wal, and Wouter van der Wal

The Earth’s surface and interior deform due to a changing load of the Antarctic Ice Sheet (AIS) during the last glacial cycle, called Glacial Isostatic Adjustment (GIA). This deformation changes the surface height of the ice sheet and indirectly the groundling line position. These changes in surface height and grounding line position influence the evolution of the AIS and consequently, again the load on the Earth’s surface. As a result, GIA operates as a negative feedback loop and could stabilize the evolution of the AIS. This feedback maybe particularly relevant for relatively low viscosities of the mantle in West Antarctica which lead to a relatively fast response time of the bedrock due to changes in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet loading. Most studies capture this process by ignoring lateral variations in the viscosity of the mantle and the stabilizing GIA feedback loop. Here we present a new method to couple an ice sheet model to a GIA model at a variable timestep in the order of a thousand years. Several experiments have been done using different radial and lateral varying rheologies for simulations of the last glacial cycle. It is shown that the effect of including lateral variations and accounting for the stabilizing GIA feedback is up to 80 kilometers for the grounding line position and 400 meters for the ice thickness. The largest differences are observed close to the grounding line of the Ronne ice shelf and at several locations in East Antarctica. The total ice volume of the AIS increases by 0.5 percent over 5000 years when including the 3D GIA feedback loops in the coupled model. These results quantify the local importance of including GIA feedback effects in ice dynamic models when simulating the Antarctic Ice Sheet evolution over the full glacial cycle.  

How to cite: van Calcar, C., de Boer, B., Blank, B., van de Wal, R., and van der Wal, W.: The effect of the GIA feedback loop on the evolution of the Antarctic Ice sheet over the last glacial cycle using a coupled 3D GIA – Ice Dynamic model, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-15773,, 2021.

Linda Pan, Evelyn M. Powell, Konstantin Latychev, Jerry X. Mitrovica, Jessica R. Creveling, Natalya Gomez, Mark J. Hoggard, and Peter U. Clark

Studies of peak global mean sea level (GMSL) during the Last Interglacial (LIG; 130-116 ka) commonly cite values ranging from ~2-5 m for the maximum contribution from grounded, marine-based sectors of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). However, this estimate neglects viscoelastic crustal uplift and the associated meltwater flux out of marine sectors as they are exposed, a contribution considered to be small and slowly-accumulating. This assumption should be revisited, as a range of evidence indicates that West Antarctica is underlain by shallow mantle of anomalously low viscosity. By incorporating this complex structure into a gravitationally self-consistent sea-level calculation, we find that GMSL differs substantially from previous estimates. Our results indicate that these estimates thus require a reassessment of the contribution to GMSL rise from WAIS collapse, as will ice sheet models that do not account for the uplift mechanism. This conclusion has important implications for the sea level budget not only during the LIG, but also for all previous interglacials and projections of GMSL change in the future warming world.  

How to cite: Pan, L., Powell, E. M., Latychev, K., Mitrovica, J. X., Creveling, J. R., Gomez, N., Hoggard, M. J., and Clark, P. U.: Reassessing the Contribution of West Antarctica to Last Interglacial Sea Level in Light of 3D Mantle Viscosity Structure, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-13786,, 2021.

Torsten Albrecht, Meike Bagge, Ricarda Winkelmann, and Volker Klemann

The Antarctic Ice Sheet rests on a bed that is characterized by tectonical activity and hence by a heterogeneous rheology. Spots of extremely weak lithosphere structure could have strong impacts on the Glacial Isostatic Adjustment and hence on the stability of the ice sheet, possibly also for confined glacier regions and on timescales of decades down to even years (Barletta et al., 2018).

We coupled the VIscoelastic Lithosphere and MAntle model (VILMA) to the Parallel Ice Sheet Model (PISM) and ran simulations over the last two glacial cycles. In this framework, VILMA considers both viscoelastic deformations of the solid Earth and gravitationally consistent mass redistribution in the ocean by solving for the sea-level equation (Martinec et al., 2018). In turn, PISM interprets this as a vertical shift in bed topography that directly affects the stress balance within the ice sheet and hence the grounding line dynamics at the interface of ice, ocean and bedrock.

Here we present first results of the coupled Antarctic glacial-cycle simulations and investigate technical aspects, such as optimal coupling time steps, iteration schemes and convergence, for both one-dimensional and three-dimensional Earth structures. This project is part of the German Climate Modeling Initiative, PalMod2.



Barletta et al., 2018. Observed rapid bedrock uplift in Amundsen Sea Embayment promotes ice-sheet stability. Science360, pp.1335-1339. DOI: 10.1126/science.aao1447

Martinec et al., 2018. A benchmark study of numerical implementations of the sea level equation in GIA modelling. Geophysical Journal International215(1), pp.389-414. DOI: 10.1093/gji/ggy280


How to cite: Albrecht, T., Bagge, M., Winkelmann, R., and Klemann, V.: Coupled solid Earth – Antarctic ice sheet simulations with VILMA and PISM, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-8050,, 2021.

Violaine Coulon, Kevin Bulthuis, Pippa Whitehouse, Sainan Sun, and Frank Pattyn

Projections of the contribution of the Antarctic ice sheet to future sea-level rise remain highly uncertain, especially on long timescales. One of the reasons for this uncertainty lies in the uncertainty in the intensity of the feedbacks of glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA; i.e. the combination of bedrock adjustment and gravitationally-consistent sea-surface changes due to ice mass changes) on ice-sheet evolution. Indeed, the Antarctic ice sheet lies on a solid Earth that displays large spatial variations in rheological properties, with a thin lithosphere and low-viscosity upper mantle beneath West Antarctica and an opposing structure beneath East Antarctica (Morelli & Danesi, 2004; Lloyd et al., 2020). In addition to this West-East dichotomy, strong viscoelastic heterogeneities (sometimes by several orders of magnitude across relatively short spatial scales) exist within the East and West Antarctic regions (An et al., 2015). These lateral variations are known to have a significant impact on the ice-sheet grounding-line stability (Gomez et al., 2015; Konrad et al., 2015). However, large uncertainties remain in determining these viscoelastic properties with precision.

Here, we investigate the influence of GIA feedbacks on the uncertainty in assessing the long-term contribution of the Antarctic ice sheet to future sea-level rise (SLR). In this framework, we design an ensemble approach, taking advantage of the computational efficiency of the Elementary GIA model (Coulon et al., under review). The latter consists of a modified Elastic Lithosphere—Relaxing Asthenosphere model able to consider spatially-varying viscoelastic properties supplemented with an approximation of gravitationally-consistent geoid changes, allowing to approximate near-field relative sea-level changes. Using existing upper-mantle viscosity and lithosphere thickness maps, we produce a large range of plausible Antarctic viscoelastic properties by varying the level of lateral variability in the associated relaxation time and flexural rigidity. We thereby take into account (i) the important lateral variations in rheological properties observed beneath the Antarctic ice sheet as well as (ii) the strong uncertainty characterizing the estimation of Antarctic solid Earth properties. We investigate the potential stabilizing role of GIA effects as well as their influence on multi-centennial to multi-millenial SLR. In addition, we investigate whether GIA feedbacks are able to stabilize the Antarctic ice sheet on short or longer timescales for strong and intermediate mitigation climate scenarios. Preliminary results (Coulon et al., under review) show that the weak Earth structure observed beneath West Antarctica plays a significant role in promoting the stability of the West Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS). However, WAIS collapse cannot be prevented under high-emissions climate scenarios. The highest uncertainty arises from the East Antarctic ice sheet (EAIS) where ice retreat in the Aurora Basin is highly dependent on mantle viscosity.

How to cite: Coulon, V., Bulthuis, K., Whitehouse, P., Sun, S., and Pattyn, F.: Impact of glacial isostatic adjustment on the long-term stability of the Antarctic ice sheet, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-1350,, 2021.