Towards a fully unstructured ocean model for ice shelf cavity environments: Model development and verification using the Firedrake finite element framework

Numerical studies of ice flow have consistently identified the grounding zone of outlet glaciers and ice streams (the region where ice starts to float) as crucial for predicting the rate of grounded ice loss to the ocean. Owing to the extreme environments and difficulty of access to ocean cavities beneath ice shelves, field observations are rare. Estimates of melt rates derived from satellites are also difficult to make near grounding zones with confidence. Therefore, numerical ocean models are important tools to investigate these critical and remote regions. The relative inflexibility of structured grid models means, however, that they can struggle to resolve these processes in irregular cavity geometries near grounding zones. To help solve this issue, we present a new nonhydrostatic unstructured mesh model for flow under ice shelves built using the Firedrake finite element framework. We demonstrate our ability to simulate full ice shelf cavity domains using the community standard ISOMIP+ Ocean0 test case and compare our results against those obtained with the popular MITgcm model. Good agreement is found between the two models, despite their use of different discretisation schemes and the sensitivity of the melt rate parameterisation to grid resolution. Verification tests based on the Method of Manufactured Solutions (MMS) show that the new model discretisation is sound and second-order accurate. A main driver behind using Firedrake is the availability of an automatically generated adjoint model. Our first adjoint calculations, of sensitivities of melt rate with respect to different inputs in an idealised grounding zone domain, are promising and point to the ability to address a number of important questions on ocean influence on ice shelf vulnerability in the future.


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Authors: Scott, William I., Kramer, Stephan C., Holland, Paul R. ORCIDORCID record for Paul R. Holland, Nicholls, Keith W. ORCIDORCID record for Keith W. Nicholls, Siegert, Martin J., Piggott, Matthew D.

On this site: Keith Nicholls, Paul Holland
16 February, 2023
Ocean Modelling / 182
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