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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

Ocean-induced melt volume directly paces ice loss from Pine Island Glacier

Joughin, I., D. Shapero, P. Dutrieux, and B. Smith, "Ocean-induced melt volume directly paces ice loss from Pine Island Glacier," Sci. Adv., 7, doi:10.1126/sciadv.abi5738, 2021.

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22 Oct 2021

The spatial distribution of ocean-induced melting beneath buttressing ice shelves is often cited as an important factor controlling Antarctica’s sea-level contribution. Using numerical simulations, we investigate the relative sensitivity of grounded-ice loss to the spatial distribution and overall volume of ice-shelf melt over two centuries. Contrary to earlier work, we find only minor sensitivity to melt distribution (<6%), with a linear dependence of ice loss on the total melt. Thus, less complex models that need not reproduce the detailed melt distribution may simplify the projection of future sea level. The linear sensitivity suggests a contribution of up to 5.1 cm from Pine Island Glacier over the next two centuries given anticipated levels of ocean warming, provided its ice shelf does not collapse because of other causes.

Abrupt Common Era hydroclimate shifts drive west Greenland ice cap change

Osman, M.B., B.E. Smith, L.D. Trusel, S.B. Das, J.R. McConnell, N. Chellman, M. Arienzo, and H. Sodermann, "Abrupt Common Era hydroclimate shifts drive west Greenland ice cap change," Nat. Geosci., 14, 756-761, doi:10.1038/s41561-021-00818-w, 2021.

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9 Sep 2021

Ice core archives are well suited for reconstructing rapid past climate changes at high latitudes. Despite this, few records currently exist from coastal Greenlandic ice caps due to their remote nature, limiting our long-term understanding of past maritime and coastal climate variability across this rapidly changing Arctic region. Here, we reconstruct regionally representative glacier surface mass balance and climate variability over the last two thousand years (similar to 169–2015 CE) using an ice core collected from the Nuussuaq Peninsula, west Greenland. We find indications of abrupt regional hydroclimate shifts, including an up to 20% decrease in average snow accumulation during the transition from the Medieval Warm Period (950–-1250 CE) to Little Ice Age (1450–1850 CE), followed by a subsequent >40% accumulation increase from the early 18th to late 20th centuries CE. These coastal changes are substantially larger than those previously reported from interior Greenland records. Moreover, we show that the strong relationship observed today between Arctic temperature rise and coastal ice cap decay contrasts with that of the last millennium, during which periods of warming led to snowfall-driven glacial growth. Taken together with modern observations, the ice core evidence could indicate a recent reversal in the response of west Greenland ice caps to climate change.

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.

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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.

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In The News

How ants inspired a new way to measure snow with space lasers

Wired, Matt Simon

Glaciologist Ben Smith comments on a clever new technique to measure fluffy snow on the Earth's surface with the orbiting ICESat-2 lidar instrument.

31 May 2022

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

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