I study Earth’s great ice sheets using geophysical data and mechanical models. Most Antarctic ice loss occurs as ice slides off the continent into the sea. Understanding ice sheet sliding is therefore essential to understanding the contribution of ice sheets to past, present, and future sea level rise. Despite this importance, most ice sheet models still rely on ad-hoc sliding laws that omit important physics and exhibit pathological behaviors. My recent work has employed more physically realistic frictional sliding laws. Such sliding laws describe the resistance to sliding provided by a finite strength ice--bed interface. The difference between frictional sliding laws and traditional, unbounded sliding laws has important consequences in the context of global change: if the ice--bed interface has a finite strength, then its capacity to resist the forces driving ice loss is fundamentally limited. My primary research objective is to quantify the processes that govern the strength of the ice--bed interface.
Two themes distinguish my scientific work. First, I exploit an interplay between observation and theory. My science always starts with observation. My workflow then builds simple models from simple observations before iterating and creating a hierarchy of complexity. Second, my work informs the study of climate systems but is based in solid mechanics, earthquake science, and geophysics. This crossing of disciplinary boundaries allows me to leverage the best physical insights from diverse fields towards tackling new challenges in ice sheet physics.