Introducing: Adrian Jenkins

My name is Adrian and I’m a senior research scientist at the British Antarctic Survey, where I study the interactions between the ice sheet and the ocean that surrounds it.  The particular focus of my research are the physical processes that control the rate at which the ice melts into the ocean waters and the impact that has on both the ice sheet and the ocean.

I joined BAS in 1985 as a glaciologist with a background in physics and geophysics and initially undertook three seasons of fieldwork on Ronne Ice Shelf, a vast body of floating ice covering an area equal to that of France.  My field programme involved a long over-ice traverse, starting 800 km from the coast, where the 2-km-thick ice first goes afloat, and finishing at the front of the ice shelf, where the now 200-m-thick ice breaks off to form icebergs.  The thinning of the ice during its progress toward the calving front results from a combination of ice flow, as it spreads out over the surface of the ocean (much like a drop of oil would, only very much slower), and melting from the ice shelf base, where it is in contact with the underlying seawater.  Using a series of glaciological measurements that I made at regular intervals along the traverse, I estimated the rates of melting and freezing that must be occurring at the ice shelf base, then developed a simple numerical model of the ocean circulation beneath the ice shelf to explain those results. The problem of ice‐ocean interactions has remained the primary focus of my research efforts throughout my career.

In recent years I have been mainly concerned with the study of how ocean-driven melting of the much smaller ice shelves of the south-east Pacific sector of West Antarctica is controlling the rate at which ice is being lost from that part of the ice sheet.  The resulting thinning of inland ice there currently represents Antarctica’s main contribution to sea level rise, so understanding the processes that drive it is crucial for making reliable estimates of how much further sea levels will rise in the future.  I’ve used numerical models of the ocean and sent Autonomous Submarines beneath the ice to study the ocean circulation that carries warm water to the ice and takes meltwater away.  These studies point to the need to understand better the complexities of the ocean circulation near the front of the ice shelf.  The currents that cross the ice front determine how much heat is available to melt ice from the ice shelf base, but are difficult to observe.  That’s why I’m interested in these laboratory experiments.  With the geometry of the tank, its rotation rate, and the forcing on the circulation precisely known, we can begin to understand the fundamental controls on the cross-ice-front circulation.

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