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Document ID:GEO2010-006
Document Type:Dissertation
Author:Sean David Birkel
E-mail Address:
Title:Climate Investigations Using Ice Sheet and Mass Balance Models with Emphasis on North American Glaciation
Department:Earth Sciences
Committee Chair:Peter O. Koons, Professor of Earth Sciences, Advisor ; George H. Denton, Libra Professor of Earth Sciences, Co-advisor
Chair's E-mail:
Committee Members:Fei Chai, Professor of Oceanography ; James L. Fastook, Professor of Computer Science ; Brenda L. Hall, Professor of Earth Science ; Terrence J. Hughes, Professor Emeritus of Earth Science
Subjects:Earth sciences -- Study and teaching; Ice sheets -- Mathematical models
Date of Defense:2010


This dissertation describes the application of the University of Maine Ice Sheet Model (UM-ISM) and Environmental Change Model (UM-ECM) to understanding mechanisms of ice-sheet/climate integration during ice ages. The UM-ECM, written by the author for this research, calculates equilibrium biome and snow/ice mass balance solutions for the globe based on modern input climatology and user-defined parameter values. The program was produced in conjunction with a National Science Foundation ITEST grant meant to seed inquiry-based classroom study of Earth systems using computer models. To that end, the UM-ECM serves as both a research and teaching tool. The model has a web-based interface, which has been tested with a group of middle school science teachers with a focus on local to global-scale climate learning. Initially, the UM-ISM and UM-ECM are used to reconstruct the former ice cap of the Wind River Mountains, Wyoming, in a companion study to a UMaine field research effort to document worldwide glacier recession during the last termination. It is found that the ice cap likely formed in response to a 5-6 C cooling in conjunction with a precipitation doubling relative to modern conditions. Moreover, the maximum ice cap could have disappeared within 90 years if subjected to modern climate conditions. These results support hypotheses that the western U.S. became wetter during glacial stadials due to a southward-shifted North American storm track in response to Laurentide Ice Sheet orography, and that ice caps of the western U.S. are exceptionally sensitivity to climatic perturbation. The UMaine ice sheet and climate models are then used to assess the coupling between the Laurentide Ice Sheet and climate during ice-age cycles. It is shown that the classic "sawtooth" pattern of global sea-level change can be reproduced in the model by linking size of the polar atmospheric cell over eastern Canada to size of the Laurentide Ice Sheet and the magnitude of insolation forcing. Model results also show that mechanical collapse of the Laurentide Ice Sheet is a requisite for the deglaciation of North America. In the absence of this collapse, and with consideration of orography feedbacks, Canada would remain glaciated throughout Holocene with an ice sheet large enough to lower global sea level 15-40 m. These results support a hypothesis that feedbacks inherent to the Laurentide Ice Sheet drive much of the global ice-age signal.

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Birkel, Sean David, University of Maine, GEO2010-006


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