The transferability of adjoint inversion products between different ice flow models

Jowan Barnes*, Thiago Dias Dos Santos, Daniel Goldberg, Hilmar Gudmundsson, Mathieu Morlighem, Jan De Rydt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
25 Downloads (Pure)


Among the most important challenges faced by ice flow models is how to represent basal and rheological conditions, which are challenging to obtain from direct observations. A common practice is to use numerical inversions to calculate estimates for the unknown properties, but there are many possible methods and not one standardised approach. As such, every ice flow model has a unique initialisation procedure. Here we compare the outputs of inversions from three different ice flow models, each employing a variant of adjoint-based optimisation to calculate basal sliding coefficients and flow rate factors using the same observed surface velocities and ice thickness distribution. The region we focus on is the Amundsen Sea Embayment in West Antarctica, the subject of much investigation due to rapid changes in the area over recent decades. We find that our inversions produce similar distributions of basal sliding across all models, despite using different techniques, implying that the methods used are highly robust and represent the physical equations without much influence by individual model behaviours. Transferring the products of inversions between models results in time-dependent simulations displaying variability on the order of or lower than existing model intercomparisons. Focusing on contributions to sea level, the highest variability we find in simulations run in the same model with different inversion products is 32 %, over a 40-year period, a difference of 3.67 mm. There is potential for this to be improved with further standardisation of modelling processes, and the lowest variability within a single model is 13 %, or 1.82 mm over 40 years. While the successful transfer of inversion outputs from one model to another requires some extra effort and technical knowledge of the particular models involved, it is certainly possible and could indeed be useful for future intercomparison projects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1975-2000
Number of pages26
JournalThe Cryosphere
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 23 Apr 2021


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