Rising Temperatures, Rising Water
Penn State DuBois Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Geoscience, Byron Parizek says he has a passion for unraveling the mysteries of our planet. Perhaps it’s fitting that his current research could possibly yield results of global significance.
Parizek’s work attempts to answer questions about climate change and rising sea levels. He believes the answers he’s looking for lie in glaciers, which are melting at an alarming rate. He explains, “Glaciers and ice sheets are important in the Earth system as they serve as amplifiers, catalysts, and recorders of climate change. They also affect landscapes and global biogeochemical cycling.”
With funding from the National Science Foundation and NASA, Parizek’s focus is on the continental ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. He develops numerical models of ice flow to determine how both past and present ice sheets respond to their environments. Parizek has developed some theories about what is causing on-going changes in the ice sheets and what those changes can mean to the world. His work takes into account assumptions about future greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, an obvious catalyst for the melting of ice sheets. His research helps show that once the removal of coastal ice is initiated, the dynamic response will likely be larger and propagate farther inland at a much faster rate than the glaciology community predicted less than a decade ago.
“My collaborative research has shown that the ice sheets in both Greenland and West Antarctica can shrink more rapidly than previously believed due to the lubricating and thermal effects of melt water as well as the loss of ice shelves that are floating in a relatively warm bath of ocean water around the perimeter of the ice sheets,” Parizek says.
He has also found that while the sediment under wet-based glaciers contributes to lubrication and fast flow speeds, it can provide a stabilizing effect at the grounding zone (the region where the ice loses contact with the ocean floor and begins to float as an ice shelf). In regions around West Antarctica, sub glacial sediment is deposited into grounding-zone wedges on the ocean floor. Both data and models suggest that when ice is in contact with these local mounds, the frictional drag from increased ice/sediment contact slows ice flow, thereby temporarily stopping further ice retreat until either the ice thins or sea level rises. Parizek explains that this dual role as lubricator and stabilizer highlights the importance of “understanding the processes of sediment deformation, transport, and deposition as they impact our ability to make reliable predictions about the future behavior of the ice sheets amidst modern atmospheric and oceanic warming.”
Parizek goes on to explain what this could mean for the planet, “There are implications for sea-level and global-climate fluctuations. Understanding how ongoing marginal changes will affect inland flow is critical to accurate predictions of ice-sheet evolution, freshwater flux into ocean basins, and sea-level rise.”
While his research is ongoing, Parizek enjoys sharing what he finds with students at Penn State DuBois and throughout the Penn State system. “I look forward to expanding our new and dynamic Earth Program at Penn State DuBois as well as the Penn State Ice and Climate Exploration Center (PSICE) by mentoring undergraduate and graduate students and post-doctoral fellows,” He says. He notes that he’s had the opportunity to work closely with a number of students already. “I have mentored four undergraduate students from The College of New Jersey, two undergraduate students from Penn State DuBois in an Independent Studies course, and I am presently co-mentoring one post-doctoral fellow at University Park.”
Parizek has already published several articles on this research in professional journals, with more due out next year.