A NASA first: Computer model links glaciers, global sea level

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Even as computer models of a changing Earth grow ever more accurate, a major stumbling block remains: marrying models of ice, ocean, atmosphere, the solid Earth, and other components of the earth system to create a truly global picture.

A new modeling method takes a major step in that direction. Created by three members of NASA’s Sea Level Change team, the new method allows researchers, for the first time, to weave high-resolution models of changes in individual glaciers into global models of relative sea level and solid Earth deformation, with great numerical accuracy and computational efficiency.

The "fingerprints" of sea level rise revealed by a new computer modeling method that links changes in glaciers, ice sheets, and continental water storage to relative sea levels worldwide. Bluer areas, near Greenland, reflect a loss of ice mass, counterintuitively resulting in a sea level drop. In redder areas, sea levels are rising faster than global-mean rates. This map shows the linear trend in sea-level change and covers the period from 2003 to 2015. Image courtesy Surendra Adhikari, JPL.

(Image: The “fingerprints” of sea level rise revealed by a new computer modeling method that links changes in glaciers, ice sheets, and continental water storage to relative sea levels worldwide. Blue areas, near Greenland, reflect a loss of ice mass, counterintuitively resulting in a sea level drop. In redder areas, sea levels are rising faster than global-mean rates. This map shows the linear trend in sea-level change and covers the period from 2003 to 2015. Image courtesy Surendra Adhikari, JPL.)

State-of-the-art simulation code originally dedicated to solving the ice-flow mechanics called the Ice Sheet System Model (ISSM; http://issm.jpl.nasa.gov/), also developed at JPL, served as the scaffolding upon which the new modeling method was built. But the heart of the new approach lies in the intricate mathematics – particularly the so-called Green’s function formulation – of Earth’s gravitational and rotational theory.

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