Post from a Scientist: Virtual Glaciers, Real Consequences

Gday All,
My name is Mark and I come from Australia. Yes, I know, why does an Australian care about ice and snow? Isn’t it all sun and beaches down there? Even though Australia has no glaciers, the effects can be felt there too? How? Sea Level Rise!


While the situation in the image above isn’t likely to happen overnight, sea level is rising slowly each year. My research aims to improve our knowledge of how fast sea level is rising by investigating a specific region (Antarctica’s Amery Ice Shelf Region) that could possibly increase the rate that sea level is rising. As some of you may know, Antarctica is a giant slab of ice that is up to 4km (2.5miles) thick, and if it all melted the ocean would be 60 metres (180ft) higher then it is today! So, even small changes can have large increases in sea level. I use a computer model to simulate a “virtual world” version of my region, and then “play god” in it. I can change various factors and see how they change the rate of sea level rise. I could have temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (105 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Antarctic, and melt all the ice away if I wanted! But that isn’t exactly realistic, like the poor bloke in the image below is finding out.


The hard aspect of researching within these virtual worlds is that they have to be far more simple then the real world. It’s just too hard to predict everything that could happen. Imagine trying to predict where and when every single leaf in a forest would fall. You couldn’t, but you could make assumptions to make it easier, which is what we do in these virtual worlds. This summer school is allowing me to connect with other researchers, find out about others who work in the virtual world, and try to improve my own virtual world of my region of interest, in order to give the best estimate of sea level rise.

- Mark, Institue for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) and Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACECRC), University of Tasmania, Australia

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