Fun and Science: Ice sheet modeling and Austin sight-seeing

At the end of last week and through the weekend I was attending a workshop for work right here in Austin. Basically, some very smart people  designed a sophisticated ice sheet model recently that some of us at the Institute for Geophysics are interested in using to answer some of the questions we have about ice.

Screen Shot 2013-08-04 at 8.58.52 AM

Left is the observed Greenland ice velocity. Right is the modeled Greenland ice velocity. Note they’re practically identical; that means it’s good. (Brinkerhoff and Johnson, 2013)

The meeting quickly came to be known as “the FEniCS meeting” because the ice sheet model involved is designed using software called FEniCS (Finite Element Computational Software) that helps solve the equations that describe ice flow. It’s a powerful tool that played a significant role in how quickly the model was developed and implemented. Other models may take a dozen people many years, but this one seems to have taken only a few people (mostly students, no less) less than two years. That scenario is a whole new approach to model development.

We spent a lot of time in a classroom discussing the physics and math behind the model and designing experiments we could do with the model that might shed some light on science questions. In all, there were about 12 people ranging from students to faculty members, participating in the discussion.

It wasn’t all work, though. The first night of the meeting we all took a tour of the UT Tower. I didn’t know tours were even available, but apparently they are with a reservation. For a mere $6 you can go up the 28 main floors of the tower and step out onto the observation deck. We ended our day by watching the sunset from 300 feet up.


sunset over the Texas Hill Country

Downtown Austin is just a hop, skip, and a jump from campus. We had great views of the burgeoning downtown, including some Austin landmarks like the Texas Capitol building, the old Wells Fargo building, and the Frost Bank Building (it resembles an owl if you look at it edge-on, not shown).


We left shortly after the sun went down, but not before getting a glimpse of all the city lights. Not a bad end to a long day.


5 thoughts on “Fun and Science: Ice sheet modeling and Austin sight-seeing

  1. Wow! great modeling! Most I have seen in other disciplines don’t come that close. Saw a few of the San Antonio Crowleys last weekend, including aunt & grandmother of the twp at UT.


  2. Pingback: Thesis Mode. | I'm Not Yet Dead

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