On fundamental limits to glacier flow models: Computational theory and implications

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No single flow model can simulate all possible glaciers and ice sheets without violating fundamental tenets of computational science. The root cause is not one of numerical sophistication, precision or accurate initial conditions. Instead, using flow and transport as data transmission, glaciers inadvertently function as information processors. This computational capability confers a level of complexity that inherently limits our ability to accurately and efficiently predict glacier flow and therefore, for example, to forecast those aspects of climate systems that depend on glaciers. In particular, even with considerable future advancements in glacier physics, computational theory shows that no dramatic improvements in numerical speed are likely when compared to today's glacier models. Therefore, to increase speed and resolution, the next generation of climate and sea-level models must rely on simulations tailored to specific ice-sheet geometries rather than general-purpose glacier flow models. However, because glaciers process information, entirely new computation- theoretic advances in glaciology are possible, and concepts from information entropy may help to define new glacier scaling relationships and identify which geometries will be most problematic for modeling.

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