Documentation for PISM, a parallel Ice Sheet Model

NEWS: Greenland outlet glacier flow modeled the right way

The Parallel Ice Sheet Model pism0.7 is open source and capable of high resolution. It is widely adopted as a tool for doing science. Features include:

PISM Application of the Month

February 2016

This prominent paper uses a PISM simulation to show how a localized destabilization in the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica causes a complete disintegration of the marine ice in West Antarctica. In these 5-km horizontal resolution simulations, the region disequilibrates after 60 y of currently-observed sub-shelft melt rates. Thereafter the marine ice-sheet instability fully unfolds and is not halted by topographic features. In fact, the ice loss in Amundsen Sea sector shifts the catchment's ice divide toward the Filchner–Ronne and Ross ice shelves, which initiates grounding-line retreat there. Our simulations suggest that if a destabilization of Amundsen Sea sector has indeed been initiated, Antarctica will irrevocably contribute at least 3 m to global sea-level rise during the coming centuries to millennia.

See the videos linked in this news item.

2016/02/01 21:55 · Ed Bueler

Latest News

Greenland outlet glacier flow modeled the right way

Today's publication of Aschwanden et al. (2016) in Nature Communications is certainly a milestone in PISM development. However, it is also a milestone in ice sheet modeling generally. Here's why.

The paper is based on PISM simulations with grid resolution down to 600 m over the entire Greenland ice sheet. To start, each of an initial ensemble of 14 lower-resolution (1500 m) experiments has a single ice-sheet-wide value for all parameters. The best of these, in an ice-sheet-wide measure, is re-run at the 600 m resolution and various coarser resolutions. The quality of this flow model for 29 outlet glaciers is assessed; each outlet glacier sees the same physics. The main result is that the majority of the outlet glaciers show strong correlation between modeled and present-day-observed velocity, when it is compared along cross-flow and near-ocean profiles.

Before this paper one might suppose, based on the most prominent literature on the subject, that a detailed, measurably-accurate, outlet-glacier-resolving model of the present-day velocity of an entire ice sheet was dependent both on removing shallow assumptions from the stress balance and on tuning a very large number of basal parameters. Both of these “required” properties would be very bad news for the prospect of using ice sheet simulations to do science! On the one hand, Stokes models are computationally-expensive, while on the other hand only present-day, and not past or future, data are available to set all these basal parameters through inversion.

Such a pessimistic view turns out to be substantially false. Aschwanden et al. (2016) show that four things do matter: (i) an accurate map of bedrock topography, (ii) a stress regime in which viscous membrane stresses are part of the balance with basal sliding resistance, (iii) an energy-conservation-driven basal stress model derived (conceptually) from a model of a wet, pressurized, deformable basal layer, and (iv) high model resolution over all areas of the ice sheet where sliding is possible and/or steep/rough basal topography exists.

NASA IceBridge missions, and the mass-conserving-bed technology of Morlighem et al (2014), are shown by this paper to represent major progress on item (i). Items (ii) and (iii) are properties of the PISM continuum model, and item (iv) of its implementation as parallel-scalable software. Certainly all of these “things that matter” are improvable. More-complete stress balances and the use of inversion of present-day velocities will both be essential to improvements. The main idea remains, however: if the modeled flowing ice has the right bottom geometry, and if the dynamical model has certain key features, then the resulting dynamics are already inside the ballpark!

This research has been featured in Alaska's largest newspaper, the Alaska Dispatch News.

2016/02/01 11:49 · Ed Bueler

Ph.D scholarship at Victoria University Wellington: Antarctic ice-sheet modelling

See the official announcement for complete details.

The Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, is offering a FULLY FUNDED scholarship for an enthusiastic and talented Ph.D student to undertake numerical ice-sheet modelling research. Experiments will focus on better understanding and simulating the processes involved in ice-sheet – ocean interactions. Such processes determine the basal mass balance of marine-based ice-sheets such as the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and as such, control the pattern and timing of grounding-line migrations.

Collaborating with scientists at a variety of New Zealand (VUW, GNS, NIWA) and Australian (UNSW, UTAS, AAD) institutions, the researcher will use present-day glaciological and oceanographic observations as primary constraints to a suite of model simulations that will explore the sensitivity of Antarctic ice-sheets to changes in ocean circulation. A key aspect of the project lies in trying to identify and quantify thresholds and feedback mechanisms that may either accelerate or inhibit ice-shelf melt. The ultimate aim of the project is to build on recent work to provide more robust simulations of ice-shelf and ice-sheet changes under future scenarios of perturbed atmospheric and oceanographic conditions.

The research project will span a range of temporal and spatial scales, but will primarily use the Parallel Ice Sheet Model and will focus initially on the Ross Ice Shelf. The successful applicant may also have the opportunity to spend time in Antarctica acquiring new data.

Skills: Applicants must have a strong background in geophysics, maths or other numerical Earth Sciences. Experience working in a UNIX / Linux environment, including shell scripting, is essential. Programming abilities in any of the usual languages and experience with high-performance computing facilities would also be extremely useful.

Applications: We wish to have the successful applicant starting no later than July 2016, and therefore request completed applications by 18th December 2015.

For details of the application process or to lodge an expression of interest, contact Dr. Nick Golledge ( as soon as possible.

2015/11/24 18:31 · Ed Bueler

PISM team

PISM is jointly developed at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF) and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). For more about the team see the UAF Developers and PIK Developers pages.

UAF developers, who are in the Glaciers Group at the GI, are supported by NASA's Modeling, Analysis, and Prediction and Cryospheric Sciences Programs (grants NAG5-11371, NNX09AJ38C, NNX13AM16G, NNX13AK27G) and by the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center.

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