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Processes, drivers, predictions: Modeling the response of Thwaites Glacier over the next century using ice/ocean coupled models

Northumbria University is leading UK operations of PROPHET, part of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC), funded jointly by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the US National Science Foundation (NSF).

The full title of the PROPHET project is “Processes, drivers, predictions: Modeling the response of Thwaites Glacier over the next century using ice/ocean coupled models”.

The aim of PROPHET is to predict the future evolution of Thwaites Glacier, in Western Antarctica, using state-of-the-art ice and ocean modelling informed by accurate and extensive observational data.


The International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC) is a major interdisciplinary investigation, and the largest collaboration between the UK and USA in Antarctica for 70 years. It has been granted £20 million in funding and will take place over 5 years.

There are eight components of the ITGC, of which PROPHET is one of two modelling studies. There are also four observational studies focusing on key dynamical processes, and two looking at the historical context of the glacier and surrounding ocean. The data collected in these observational projects will feed into the modelling work of PROPHET.


Thwaites Glacier is a very important area to study, and has gathered a lot of international interest over recent years. The glacier drains an area roughly the size of Britain, and lies on top of some of the deepest bedrock in Antarctica meaning that the ice can be very thick. If the entire glacier were to melt, it would raise global sea level by about 80cm.

The glacier and surrounding areas have been changing very quickly. Rising ocean temperatures and the resulting rapid ice loss means that Thwaites Glacier is under threat of entering unstable retreat, which would mean accelerated melting as more comparatively warm sea water fills the newly opening cavities under the ice. After entering unstable retreat, it would be unlikely to stop until the entire glacier has disappeared. There are fears that if this happens, it could destabilise even more ice across West Antarctica.

Understanding the dynamics of Thwaites Glacier and its interactions with the atmosphere and ocean is therefore very important. We must attempt to work out how close it is to unstable retreat, and over what time scales the effects of its melting will contribute to the rising global sea level.


PROPHET aims to improve the representation of important processes of glacier dynamics within ice flow models, and forecast changes in Thwaites Glacier. The research taking place at Northumbria is using models of ice flow and ocean circulation to predict the future evolution of the glacier and its contribution to sea level rise.

Professor Hilmar Gudmundsson is the Principal Investigator of the UK side of PROPHET. He has developed a MATLAB-based ice flow model called Úa, which we are using to model the dynamics of Thwaites Glacier.

Úa can be given input from the results of ocean models. Jan De Rydt is running Úa in combination with MITgcm, a general ocean circulation model, while Jowan Barnes is experimenting with an analytical formulation of meltwater plumes. Results from both models of the ocean conditions can be input as boundary conditions to the base of the ice shelf in Úa.

Initial work is focusing on improving various aspects of the models, so that more accurate predictions will be possible.


Our main partners in PROPHET are:

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