Campus Map

Benjamin Smith

Principal Physicist

Affiliate Associate Professor, Earth and Space Sciences





Department Affiliation

Polar Science Center


B.S. Physics, University of Chicago, 1997

M.S. Geology & Geophysics, University of Wisconsin - Madison, 1999

Ph.D. Earth & Space Sciences/Geophysics, University of Washington - Seattle, 2005


2000-present and while at APL-UW

A generalized interpolation material point method for shallow ice shelves. 1: Shallow shelf approximation and ice thickness evolution

Huth, A., R. Duddu, and B. Smith, "A generalized interpolation material point method for shallow ice shelves. 1: Shallow shelf approximation and ice thickness evolution," J. Adv. Model. Earth Syst., 13, doi:10.1029/2020MS002277, 2021.

More Info

1 Aug 2021

We develop a generalized interpolation material point method (GIMPM) for the shallow shelf approximation (SSA) of ice flow. The GIMPM, which can be viewed as a particle version of the finite element method, is used here to solve the shallow shelf approximations of the momentum balance and ice thickness evolution equations. We introduce novel numerical schemes for particle splitting and integration at domain boundaries to accurately simulate the spreading of an ice shelf. The advantages of the proposed GIMPM-SSA framework include efficient advection of history or internal state variables without diffusion errors, automated tracking of the ice front and grounding line at sub-element scales, and a weak formulation based on well-established conventions of the finite element method with minimal additional computational cost. We demonstrate the numerical accuracy and stability of the GIMPM using 1-D and 2-D benchmark examples. We also compare the accuracy of the GIMPM with the standard material point method (sMPM) and a reweighted form of the sMPM. We find that the grid-crossing error is very severe for SSA simulations with the sMPM, whereas the GIMPM successfully mitigates this error. While the grid-crossing error can be reasonably reduced in the sMPM by implementing a simple material point reweighting scheme, this approach it not as accurate as the GIMPM. Thus, we illustrate that the GIMPM-SSA framework is viable for the simulation of ice sheet-shelf evolution and enables boundary tracking and error-free advection of history or state variables, such as ice thickness or damage.

A generalized interpolation material point method for shallow ice shelves. 2: Anisotropic nonlocal damage mechanics and rift propagation

Huth, A., R. Duddu, and B. Smith, "A generalized interpolation material point method for shallow ice shelves. 2: Anisotropic nonlocal damage mechanics and rift propagation," J. Adv. Model. Earth Syst., 13, doi:10.1029/2020MS002292, 2021.

More Info

1 Aug 2021

Ice shelf fracture is responsible for roughly half of Antarctic ice mass loss in the form of calving and can weaken buttressing of upstream ice flow. Large uncertainties associated with the ice sheet response to climate variations are due to a poor understanding of these fracture processes and how to model them. Here, we address these problems by implementing an anisotropic, nonlocal integral formulation of creep damage within a large-scale shallow-shelf ice flow model. This model can be used to study the full evolution of fracture from initiation of crevassing to rifting that eventually causes tabular calving. While previous ice shelf fracture models have largely relied on simple expressions to estimate crevasse depths, our model parameterizes fracture as a progressive damage evolution process in three-dimensions (3-D). We also implement an efficient numerical framework based on the material point method, which avoids advection errors. Using an idealized marine ice sheet, we test the creep damage model and a crevasse-depth based damage model, including a modified version of the latter that accounts for damage evolution due to necking and mass balance. We demonstrate that the creep damage model is best suited for capturing weakening and rifting over shorter (monthly/yearly) timescales, and that anisotropic damage reproduces typically observed fracture patterns better than isotropic damage. Because necking and mass balance can significantly influence damage on longer (decadal) timescales, we discuss the potential for a combined approach between models to best represent mechanical weakening and tabular calving within long-term simulations.

Ice-shelf retreat drives recent Pine Island Glacier speedup

Joughin, I., D. Shapero, B. Smith, P. Dutrieux, and M. Barham, "Ice-shelf retreat drives recent Pine Island Glacier speedup," Sci. Adv., 7, doi:10.1126/sciadv.abg3080, 2021.

More Info

11 Jun 2021

Speedup of Pine Island Glacier over the past several decades has made it Antarctica's largest contributor to sea-level rise. The past speedup is largely due to grounding-line retreat in response to ocean-induced thinning that reduced ice-shelf buttressing. While speeds remained fairly steady from 2009 to late 2017, our Copernicus Sentinel 1A/B-derived velocity data show a >12% speedup over the past 3 years, coincident with a 19-km retreat of the ice shelf. We use an ice-flow model to simulate this loss, finding that accelerated calving can explain the recent speedup, independent of the grounding-line, melt-driven processes responsible for past speedups. If the ice shelf’s rapid retreat continues, it could further destabilize the glacier far sooner than would be expected due to surface- or ocean-melting processes.

More Publications

In The News

Edge of Pine Island Glacier’s ice shelf is ripping apart, causing key Antarctic glacier to gain speed

UW News, Hannah Hickey

For decades, the ice shelf helping to hold back one of the fastest-moving glaciers in Antarctica has gradually thinned. Analysis of satellite images reveals a more dramatic process in recent years: From 2017 to 2020, large icebergs at the ice shelf’s edge broke off, and the glacier sped up.

11 Jun 2021

Shrinking ice sheets lifted global sea level 14 millimeters

Eos (American Geophysical Union), Tim Hornyak

Researchers measure both grounded and floating ice sheets using satellite data spanning a 16-year period.

15 May 2020

NASA: 318 gigatons of ice are melting in Antarctica and Greenland each year

Tech Times, Giuliano J.

The results of a new study reveal that the ice sheet in Antarctica's interior is getting thicker because of increased snowfall. However, the warming of the ocean has also caused ice meltdowns in the Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctica, which outweigh the gains in the interior.

3 May 2020

More News Items

Acoustics Air-Sea Interaction & Remote Sensing Center for Environmental & Information Systems Center for Industrial & Medical Ultrasound Electronic & Photonic Systems Ocean Engineering Ocean Physics Polar Science Center