• Bayesian methods in glaciology

      Brinkerhoff, Douglas; Truffer, Martin; Aschwanden, Andy; Tape, Carl; Bueler, Ed (2017-12)
      The problem of inferring the value of unobservable model parameters given a set of observations is ubiquitous in glaciology, as are large measurement errors. Bayes' theorem provides a unified framework for addressing such problems in a rigorous and robust way through Monte Carlo sampling of posterior distributions, which provides not only the optimal solution for a given inverse problem, but also the uncertainty. We apply these methods to three glaciological problems. First, we use Markov Chain Monte Carlo sampling to infer the importance of different glacier hydrological processes from observations of terminus water flux and surface speed. We find that the opening of sub-glacial cavities due to sliding over asperities at the glacier bed is of a similar magnitude to the opening of channels due to turbulent melt during periods of large input flux, but also that the processes of turbulent melting is the greatest source of uncertainty in hydrological modelling. Storage of water in both englacial void spaces and exchange of water between the englacial and subglacial systems are both necessary to explain observations. We next use Markov Chain Monte Carlo sampling to determine distributed glacier thickness from dense observations of surface velocity and mass balance coupled with sparse direct observations of thickness. These three variables are related through the principle of mass conservation. We develop a new framework for modelling observational uncertainty, then apply the method to three test cases. We find a strong relationship between measurement uncertainty, measurement spacing, and the resulting uncertainty in thickness estimates. We also find that in order to minimize uncertainty, measurement spacing should be 1-2 times the characteristic length scale of variations in subglacial topography. Finally, we apply the method of particle filtering to compute robust estimates of ice surface velocity and uncertainty from oblique time-lapse photos for the rapidly retreating Columbia Glacier. The resulting velocity fields, when averaged over suitable time scales, agree well with velocity measurements derived from satellites. At higher temporal resolution, our results suggest that seasonal evolution of the subglacial drainage system is responsible for observed changes in ice velocity at seasonal scales, and that this changing configuration produces varying degrees of glacier flow sensitivity to changes in external water input.