Roughness modulation of Greenland Ice Sheet hydrology and ice-flow dynamics

Lead Academic – Andrew Sole  (Sheffield)

David Rippin (York)

Duncan Quincey (Leeds)

The contribution of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) to future sea-level rise is uncertain (IPCC, 2013).   Observations reveal the important role of water in lubricating the bed and enhancing ice-flow into oceans.  In Greenland, drainage of large volumes of surface meltwater to the ice sheet bed dominates the subglacial hydrological system.  Ice surface and bed roughness largely control where meltwater can access the bed, and the nature of its subsequent flow beneath the ice.  However, no systematic investigation into the influence of roughness on Greenland hydrology and dynamics exists.   Thus, physical processes controlling storage and drainage of surface meltwater, and the way it affects ice flow are not comprehensively understood. This presents a critical obstacle in efforts to predict the fate of the GrIS, and remains one of today’s most pressing glaciological challenges.

To tackle this problem a collaborative approach is required.  Our established and early-career experts will conduct a pilot study, which aims to identify and quantify the influence of ice surface and bed roughness on surface and subglacial meltwater routing and GrIS ice-flow dynamics.  We will focus on two regions of the GrIS that are characterised by different bed roughnesses (identified from Rippin, 2013).  

This project will identify detailed spatial patterns between surface and subglacial drainage, surface and bed roughness, and ice flow.  It will further understanding of processes linking ice melt and flow dynamics.  It will inform a NERC research proposal (January 2016) to investigate these patterns using numerical models and further data acquisition with the eventual aim of incorporating our findings into predictive models of GrIS evolution


Other academics involved with this project

Dr Stephen Livingstone (Sheffield, Vice Chancellor Research Fellow)

Dr Jon Hill (York, Lecturer)

Dr Malcolm McMillan (Leeds, Research Fellow)



1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), (2013), 5th Assessment Report.

2. Rippin, D. (2013), Journal of Glaciology, 59, 724-732.

3. Morlighem, M. et al., (2011), Geophysical Research Letters, 38, DOI: 10.1029/2011GL048659

4. Morlighem, M. et al., (2013), Journal of Glaciology, 59, 1015-1023.