iMechPro – Ice microstructure and mechanics and their implications for the integrity of climate proxies in ice cores


Glaciers and ice sheets are essential elements of Earths climate system. Their interactions with the environment can have dramatic implications for life on the globe, as demonstrated by their roles in sea-level rise and global warming. Such environmental interactions remain recorded in the ice microstructure, in form of impurities like air bubbles, particles, and other climate proxies buried by subsequent snowfalls. It happens, however, that glaciers and ice sheets flow.

They creep downslope under their own burden, disrupting the stratigraphy of deepest ice, and consequently destroying the integrity of their oldest climate records. A precise estimate of this flow is essential not only for reliable prognoses of sea-level rise, but also for the reconstruction of disturbed ice-core climate records. For all these reasons, glaciologists have been struggling to produce ever more sophisticated models of glacier and ice-sheet flow. Nevertheless, too often these models rely on outdated, sometimes even dogmatic theories of ice mechanics, which ignore essential aspects of the microstructure and physical properties of natural ice. In particular, numerous ice-core and borehole studies have revealed a clear correlation between microstructure, mechanical properties, and impurities in natural ice, in form of a multiscale Structure-Flow-Environment Interplay (SFEI). To date, there exists no holistic model capable of addressing all aspects of the SFEI in natural ice. The objective of iMechPro is to help correcting this flaw, through a systematic study of the evolving interactions among microstructure, impurities, and mechanics of natural ice. This project involves advanced optical microscopy and mechanical tests of natural ice at the IzotzaLab, the novel low-temperature laboratory at BC3, combined with interpretation of field data, digital image analysis of new and already existing micrographs, conceptual and mathematical modelling. Ice samples, field data, stratigraphy records, and micrographs will be available from diverse sites, including Antarctica, Greenland, the Pyrenees, and possibly also the Alps, Patagonia, Alaska, and Siberia, therefore covering a wide range of ice varieties and climatic conditions. The results from iMechPro shall pave the way to a new generation of glacier and ice-sheet flow models, by considering all deformation mechanisms and microstructural processes taking place in natural ice, combined with realistic descriptions of climate proxy formation and decay.

Start date: 2019-01-01        End date: 2022-09-30

Call: Proyectos de I+D+i «Retos investigación» correspondientes al Programa Estatal de I+D+i Orientada a los Retos de la Sociedad, CONVOCATORIA 2018

Key people involved in BC3:

Sérgio H. Faria

Nicolás González Santacruz

Patricia Muñoz

María Santolaria-Otin

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