Christian Schoof


EOS-South 356
(604) 822-6482

About my work

I am a mathematical and physical glaciologist whose main interest is the dynamics of ice sheets, such as those found in Antarctica and Greenland. My work focuses on fundamental aspects of ice sheet dynamics. Some of the questions that motivate my work are: what drove the retreat of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet following the Last Glacial Maximum? How can large ice sheets such as the Laurentide disintegrate as quickly as they are known to have done? What caused the massive discharges of sediment-laden ice known as Heinrich events? What is the likely future behaviour of West Antarctica and Greenland?

In order to answer these questions, the flow behaviour of ice sheets must be understood. Ice sheets accumulate snow in their interior where surface elevations are high. They lose mass at their margins, either through melting or through calving. Ice is transported between these regions by ice flow, and generally, the faster the rate of flow, the greater the rate of mass loss. Much of my work has concentrated on processes that can speed up ice flow and can potentially contribute to the rapid and irreversible disintegration of ice sheets.

Mountain glaciers also motivate much of my work. Glaciers do a number of fascinating things that are interesting to theorize about and even more fascinating to observe directly. I am particularly interested in glacier surges, where a glacier switches from a slow to a fast flow state and then continues to flow fast even though it thins and the stresses acting on it become smaller. Another, related focus is the flow of melt water under glaciers, and the dynamics of lakes dammed by glacier ice.

A word about mathematics

Some of the methods I use are mathematical. In the mathematical sphere, I have a particular interest in partial differential equations, free boundary problems, applied complex analysis, dynamical systems, perturbation methods and scientific computing, and in fluid dynamics in general.

A word about field work

I also conduct field work on glacier dynamics. This is motivated in part because mountain glaciers are a fascinating natural laboratory in which to confront theoretical ideas with reality. Mountain glaciers also allow processes that are likely to affect ice sheets to be observing in a logistically simpler setting, which often allows more detailed data to be collected. In collaboration with Gwenn Flowers at Simon Fraser University I have been developing a project in the St Elias Mountains, Yukon Territory, aimed at understanding the dynamics of a small valley glacier. A second project in collaboration with the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies in Hobart and the Australian Antarctic Division is focused on the Sorsdal Glacier in Princess Elizabeth Land.

Some examples of ongoing projects

Ice sheet dynamics: ice sheets fare continent-sized bodies of land ice, kilometres thick. There are currently two of these, in places far from where most of us live: Greenland and Antarctica. They matter because they are so large. Take all that ice and dump it into the ocean, and sea levels will rise. As we are looking at cold fresh water, potentially laden with sediment once it runs off the ice sheet, ice loss can also affect ocean circulation and nutrient cycling. Ice sheets work by gathering snow fall in their interior. That mass gain has to be balanced by mass loss. As a polycrystalline solid, ice creeps. That is, it flows like a very viscous incompressible fluid - which is quite fun to watch when looking at multi-year time lapse images of large glaciers. The flow of ice is relevant because it transports mass from where there is net accumulation of snow to where net mass loss occurs, either near the ice sheet edge where surface elevations are lower and more ice melts in a year than snow falls, or at the coast where icebergs can be discharged. A significant amount of my work has looked at so-called marine ice sheets, and at quantifying rates of mass loss using physics-based models. An ongoing thread in my work is to improve models of fracture formation and iceberg calving in ice sheets, and to understand how that affects ice flow. in marine ice sheets Other work in ice sheet dynamics in my group focuses on the fast flow of ice streams, and on thermomechanical effects: how do feedbacks between heat dissipation and ice temperature affect the flow of an ice sheet, and can they lead to spontaneous pattern formation and to rapid acceleration of ice flow?

Glacier hydrology and surges: Glaciers work like ice sheets except that they are smaller and usually supported by significant topography. Rather than flowing primarily sideways as an ice sheet does (ice sheets essentially spread under their own weight), glaciers tend to flow downhill. The basic picture of input and output is still the same: over an annual cycle, there is net snow accumulation at the top of the glacier, and net loss near the end, or snout. The length of a glacier may be largely dictated by topographic gradients (in the sense that a longer glacier would have a larger portion below its end-of-summer snow line and therefore lose more mass over a year), but the thickness of a glacier is largely dictated by ice flow: for a given snowfall rate and therefore of mass throughput, a faster flowing glacier will be thinner. Glaciers flow viscously, but they can also slide at their base. That sliding motion is facilitated by pressurized water at the glacier bed, which partially separates from ice and bed and weakens sediments at the bed. How does the water get there? Usually, we are looking at surface meltwater that drains through the ice to the bed and oneward to the edge of the glacier. How that drainage system works is the main control on water pressure and therefore on sliding velocities. Our ongoing research, a combination of field observation and modelling, tries to understand the basic physical processes that control the formation of a drainage system, as well as their dynamical effects - which can be quite dramatic, in the form of self-sustaining oscillations in glacier-dammed lakes (so called outburst floods) and glacier surges, in which glacier length and thickness oscillate as the result (potentially) of coupling between glacier geometry and the evolution of the subglacial drainage system. A second thread of our work encompasses surface rather than basal hydrology: not only does surface hydrology dictate how water is delivered to the bed where there is a connection through the ice (usually in the form of so-called moulins, or near-vertical shafts in the ice), it also influences the process of iceberg calving through the accumulation of water in surface cracks, which can cause them to propagate downwards. This work has been focused on coastal East Antarctica, and is also a combination of fieldwork and modelling. (Before you ask - Antarctica is a magical place, but there are currently no further field deployments planned.)

Prospective graduate and undergraduate research students

Read what it says below if you think you might want to work in this area. You might not like it, but I believe in being up-front. Grad school is a significant commitment of time and resources, by student and supervisor, so it's import to know what you're getting into. If you are an undergraduate, be advised that I rarely have vacancies for field work for undergraduates outside the UBC geophysics program, and I rely on NSERC USRA funding to support summer student research.

The Canadian funding system does not realistically allow paying for fieldwork and full student salaries. (I could go on, but it's best summed up in the words of a colleague: "It's not a research funding system, it's a research prize system": the amount of funding that flows to a researcher typically depends on their previous performance, not on the cost of the proposed research. Illogical, but true.) A scholarship is therefore your best bet for entering graduate school at UBC. Scholarships available in Canada and at UBC are typically awarded competitively, so a strong performance in your last degree is essential. For Canadian applicants and permanent residents, note that NSERC funding applications for graduate scholarships have to be submitted in the autumn of the year before you plan to start your studies.  To get full consideration for internal scholarships at UBC, your application to EOAS has to be complete with references by the start of January. EOAS typically requires you to have the equivalent of a thesis-based MSc before acceptance into the PhD program. (With satisfactory progress, you may be permitted to transfer from the EOAS MSc program into the PhD program without completing the MSc, but there are no internal scholarships for MSc students at UBC that I am aware of, so the transfer route is not particularly feasible except if you hold an NSERC master's level scholarship). There are good reasons for the MSc-before-PhD requirement - committing to a four year PhD without prior graduate research experience is a risky thing to do, and MSc level research can help crystallize your own ideas about where you want to go with your future research. See more on that below.

The most important quality in a graduate student is the ability to be fully engaged with a research project for several years, and the desire - compulsion, really - to keep learning and get to the heart of whatever you're doing, no matter how frustrating. Especially when it gets frustrating. Two more closely related qualities you'll want to have in graduate school is a commitment to precision and detail, and the ability to extend what you've learnt into ideas of your own. These qualities won't magically appear; you want to have a good idea that you possess the beginnings of them, and to know that you want to develop them further.

If you've never felt truly challenged in your previous degree, that is probably not a good thing: everyone meets their match in research, sooner or later. Likewise, if you've never felt compelled to take a project or assignment further than what the homework script asked for, you might want to ask yourself why you want to do graduate studies. If your main reason is that you want to continue your undergraduate lifestyle experience, then graduate school is definitely not for you - there are no neat, definitely do-able assignments, everything is open-ended to an extent, and "low-hanging fruit" is likely to be few and far between. The chances are, you won't be able to use graduate school to prove to the rest of the world how smart you are . That isn't a desirable pursuit in the first place, nor is it the purpose of a graduate degree, and hopefully it's not what you're all about.

You also have to work working days like the rest of the population, and may often work longer days than the nine till five crowd. The pay is also pretty poor (and there are still a lot of expectations on you), and you have to be organized and disciplined about your work. Lastly, if your primary motivation for wanting to come to Vancouver is outdoor recreation, that is great but please consider a different way of moving here. Someone out there is paying their taxes to support university research, and hence to pay your way in grad school.

If you're still reading...pursuing research is also a lot of fun, though occasionally the fun is more apparent after the fact. At its best, research gives you the sense of having discovered something new, something about the world around you, first for yourself, which you can then share with others.

For theoretical work in my group, strong mathematics and physics skills are essential. You should have fluency in calculus, linear algebra, ordinary and partial differential equations and their applications in physics (meaning, you can solve problems in these areas without immediately having to look up the relevant methods, and use them regularly), You will ideally have some background in pde-based continuum mechanics and in computational methods for differential equations. Supervision through the Institute of Applied Mathematics is possible: there is a strong fluid dynamics presence across campus.

For the fieldwork- and data-oriented side of research in my group, experience with instrumentation (including the design aspect), experimental work and / or practical engineering, as are strong quantitative skills in the physical sciences in general, either in modelling (see above) or data analysis. You need to have a good grasp of physics and university-level mathematics. The ultimate aim is to generate high-quality data that can be used to test and further develop quantitative models of glaciological phenomena, so you will need to understand these models. Also essential may a willingness to spend weeks living and working in cold and often wet (though arguably beautiful) places while probably never getting to explore for fun.

The reality is that fieldwork consists of often repetitive tasks that require a lot of attention to detail under physically demanding conditions, and an absolute need to stay safe that may be absent from your personal outdoor activities. (In plain English, if you go to do fieldwork, you will not be calling the shots as to what is an acceptable level of risk or how we operate in the field. If that is a problem for you, please fulfill your outdoor needs in a different way.) Basic outdoor and mountaineering skills (glacier travel, backcountry travel) are of course useful, but I have had very successful field seasons with glacier novices. The priority of fieldwork is sadly not to have fun. Rather, it is to gather the best data possible, which can often only be done at the cost of spending large sums of research funding, see above on the subject of someone paying their taxes to support this research.... Above all, common sense and an ability to get on with others are great assets in the field. All of that being said, we do have a lot of fun in the field, and many students find unsupported science work in a wild, remote environment to be an intense and rewarding experience.

Graduate Students

PhD Geophysics
MSc Geophysics
PhD Geophysics

1. Rada, C. and C. Schoof. 2018 Channelized, distributed, disconnected: subglacial drainage under a valley glacier in the Yukon. The Cryospere, 12, 2609–2636.

2. Haseloff, M., C. Schoof and O. Gagliardini. 2018. The role of subtemperate slip in thermally-driven ice stream margin migration. The Cryosphere, 12, 2545–2568.

3. Bach, E., V. Radic and C. Schoof. 2018. How sensitive are mountain glaciers to climate change? Insights from a block model. J. Glaciol, 247–258. doi: 10.1017/jog.2018.15

4. Aso, N., V.C. Tsai, C. Schoof, G.E. Flowers, A. Whiteford and C. Rada. 2017. Seismologically observed spatio-temporal drainage activity at moulins. J. Geophys. Res.: Solid Earth, 122, 9095–9108.

5. Schoof, C., A.D. Davis and T.V. Popa. 2017. Boundary layer models for calving marine outlet glaciers. The Cryosphere. 11, 2283-2303.

6. Shugar, D.H., J.J. Clague, J.L. Best, C. Schoof, M.J. Willis, L. Copland and G.H. Roe.2017. River piracy and drainage basin reorganization led by climate-driven glacier retreat. Nature Geosci., 10,370–375

7. Jessop, D., A. Hogg, M. Gilbertson and C. Schoof. 2017. Steady and unsteady fluidised granular flows on slopes. J. Fluid. Mech., 827, 67–120. 15

8. Hewitt, I. and C. Schoof. 2017. Models for polythermal ice sheets and glaciers. The Cryosphere, 11,541–551

9. Robel, A.A., C. Schoof and E. Tziperman. 2016. Persistence and variability of ice-stream grounding lines on retrograde bed slopes. The Cryosphere 10, 1883-1896, doi:10.5194/tc-10- 1883-2016.

10. Schoof, C. and I.J. Hewitt. 2016. A model for temperate ice incorporating gravity-driven moisture transport. Journal of Fluid Mechanics, 797, 504–535

11. *Haseloff, M., C. Schoof and O. Gagliardini. 2015. A boundary layer model for ice stream margins. Journal of Fluid Mechanics, 781, 353–387, doi:10.1017/jfm.2015.503

12. Robel, A.A., C. Schoof and E. Tziperman. 2014. Rapid grounding line migration induced by internal ice stream variability. Journal of Geophysical Research, 119(11), 2430–2447, doi:10.1002/2014JF003251

13. *Schoof, C., C.A. Rada, N.J. Wilson, G.E. Flowers and M. Haseloff. 2014. Oscillatory subglacial drainage in the absence of surface melt. The Cryosphere, 8,959–976, doi:10.5194/tc-8- 959-2014

14. Flowers, G.E., L. Copland and C.G. Schoof. 2014. Contemporary glacier processes and global change. Arctic, 67(1), 22–34, doi:10.14430/arctic4356.

15. Goldberg, D.N., C. Schoof and O. Sergienko, 2014. Stick-slip motion of an Antarctic Ice Stream: The effects of viscoelasticity. Journal of Geophysical Research, 119(7).15641580 doi: 10.1002/2014JF003132.

16. DeGiuli, E. and C. Schoof, 2014. On the granular stress-geometry equation. Europhysics Letters, 105, 28001 doi: 10.1209/0295-5075/105/28001

17. Werder, M.A., I.J. Hewitt, C.G. Schoof and G.E. Flowers. 2013. Modeling channelized and distributed subglacial drainage in two dimensions, Journal of Geophysical Research., 118,1-19, doi:10.1002/jgrf.20146

18. Robel, A.A., E. DeGiuli, C. Schoof and E. Tziperman, 2013. Dynamics of Ice Stream Temporal Variability: Modes, Scales and Hysteresis. Journal of Geophysical Research., 118, F925936, doi:10.1002/jgrf.20072..

19. Jarosch, A.H., C.G. Schoof and F.S. Anslow. 2013. Restoring mass conservation to shallow ice flow models over complex terrain. The Cryosphere, 7, 229-240.

20. Schoof, C. and I.J. Hewitt. 2013. Ice sheet dynamics. Ann. Rev. Fluid Mech. 45, 217–239.

21. *Schoof, C. 2012. Thermally-driven migration of ice stream shear margins. J. Fluid Mech., 712, 552-578.

22.Tziperman, E., D.S. Abbott, Y. Ashkenazy, H. Gildor, D. Pollard, C. Schoof and D.P. Schrag. 2012. Continental constriction and ocean ice cover thickness in a Snowball-Earth scenario. Journal of Geophysical Research., 117, C05016,, doi:10.1029/2011JC007730 16

23. Pattyn, F., C. Schoof, L. Perichon, R.C.A. Hindmarsh, E. Bueler, B. de Fleurian, G. Durand, O. Gagliardini, R. Gladstone, D. Goldberg, G.H. Gudmundsson, V. Lee, F.M. Nick, A.J. Payne, D. Pollard, O. Rybak, F. Saito, and A. Vieli. 2012. Results of the Marine Ice Sheet Model Intercomparison Project, MISMIP. The Cryosphere 6, 573-588.

24. Schoof, C., I.J. Hewitt and M.A. Werder. 2012. Flotation and free surface flow in a model for subglacial drainage. Part 1. Distributed drainage. J. Fluid Mech. 702, 126–156.

25. Hewitt, I.J., C. Schoof and M.A. Werder. 2012. Flotation and free surface flow in a model for subglacial drainage. Part 2. Channel flow. J. Fluid Mech. 702, 157–188

26. Schoof, C. 2012. Marine Ice Sheet Stability. J. Fluid Mech., 698, 62–73 27.

Schoof, C. 2011. Marine Ice Sheet Dynamics. Part 2: A Stokes Flow Contact Problem. J. Fluid Mech., 679, 122–155

28. Flowers, G.E., N. Roux, S. Pimentel and C.G. Schoof. 2011. Present dynamics and future prognosis of a slowly surging glacier. The Cryosphere, 5(1), 299–323

29. *Schoof, C. 2010. Ice sheet acceleration driven by melt supply variability. Nature, 468(7325), 803–806.

30. Pimentel, S., G.E. Flowers and C.G. Schoof. 2010 A hydrologically coupled higher-order flow-band model of ice dynamics with a Coulomb friction sliding law. J. Geophys. Res., 115, F04023, doi:10.1029/2009JF001621

31. Schoof, C., and R.C.A. Hindmarsh. 2010. Thin-film flows with wall slip: an asymptotic analysis of higher order glacier flow models, Quart. J. Mech. Appl. Math., 63(1), 73-114, doi:10.1093/qjmam/hbp025.

32. Schoof, C. 2010. Coulomb friction and other sliding laws in a higher-order glacier flow model, Math. Models Meth. Appl. Sci. (M3AS), 20(1), 157-189.

33. Creyts, T.T. and C.G. Schoof. 2009. Drainage through subglacial water sheets, J. Geophys. Res. 114(F04008), doi:10.1029/2008JF001215.

34. Goldberg, D., D.M. Holland, and C. Schoof. 2009. Grounding line movement and ice shelf buttressing in marine ice sheets, J. Geophys. Res. 114(F04026), doi:10.1029/2008JF001227.

35. Clarke, G.K.C., E. Berthier, C.G. Schoof and A.H. Jarosch. 2008. Neural networks applied to estimating subglacial topography and glacier volume. J. Climate. 22(8), 2146-2160.

36. Schoof, C.G. and G.K.C. Clarke. 2008. A model for spiral flows in basal ice and flute for- mation based on a Reiner-Rivlin rheology for glacial ice. J. Geophys. Res., 113(B5), B05204, doi:10.1029/2007JB004957.

37. Schoof, C. 2007.Cavitation on deformable glacier beds. SIAM J. Appl. Math., 67(6), 1633– 1653.

38. *Schoof, C. 2007. Ice sheet grounding line dynamics: steady states, stability and hysteresis. J. Geophys. Res., 112(F03S28), doi:10.1029/2006JF000664. 17

39. Schoof, C. 2007. Marine ice sheet dynamics. Part 1: The case of rapid sliding. J. Fluid Mech., 573, 27–55.

40. Schoof, C. 2007. Pressure-dependent viscosity and interfacial instability in coupled ice- sediment flow. J. Fluid Mech., 570, 227–252.

41. Schoof, C. 2006. A variational approach to ice-stream flow. J. Fluid Mech., 556, 227–251.

42. Schoof, C. 2006. Variational methods for glacier flow over plastic till. J. Fluid Mech., 555, 299–320.

43. Schoof, C. 2005. A note on inverting ice-stream surface data. J. Glaciol., 51(172), 181–182.

44. *Schoof, C. 2005. The effect of cavitation on glacier sliding. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. A, 461, 609–627, doi:10.1098/rspa.2004.1350.

45. Schoof, C. 2004. On the mechanics of ice stream shear margins. J. Glaciol., 50(169), 208–218.

46. Schoof, C. 2004. Bed topography and surges in ice streams. Geophys. Res. Letts., 31(6), L06401, doi:10.1029/2003GL018807.

47. Schoof, C. 2003. The effect of bed topography on ice sheet dynamics. Cont. Mech. Thermodyn., 15(3), 295–307. doi: 10.1007/s00161-003-0119-3

48. Schoof, C. 2002. Basal perturbations under ice streams: form drag and surface expression. J. Glaciol., 48(162), 407–416.