Dr. Kristin Poinar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geology. She focuses her research on the Greenland Ice Sheet: how is it melting, how is the ice flowing into the ocean, and what are the interactions between those processes? Her primary tool is process-scale ice-sheet models, and she incorporates remote sensing data into developing these models.
Dr. Poinar’s work on and in Greenland is aligned with the RENEW Climate Change and Socioeconomic Impacts focus area. The Greenland Ice Sheet is currently the fastest-accelerating source of global sea-level rise. Understanding how Greenland discharge is likely to continue or change in the future is crucial as cities plan for high waters. Recent storm surges (Hurricanes Sandy, Harvey, and Irma) underscore the devastation that higher sea levels can wreak on coastal cities and our connected economy and highlight the importance of research into the ice sheets behind sea-level rise.
Just as the United States has drastically different weather depending on where you are, so does Greenland: the east coast is blizzard central (roughly triple the annual snowfall in Buffalo), while the west coast is downright balmy (mean annual temperatures are similar to average January temperatures in Buffalo), by Greenland standards. On both coasts, despite the cold climates, temperatures regularly crack 0°C each summer, so the ice melts for a few weeks or months. On the west coast, this meltwater forms rushing blue rivers under the balmy 5°C summer sun, while on the east coast, snowstorms quickly bury the meltwater into glacier igloos. Dr. Poinar is currently investigating how these patterns affect the fate of meltwater in each place. So far, we have shown that the meltwater descends to the base of the ice sheet thousands of feet below, from where it has a clear path to the ocean. But the rate at which the water gets there affects the flow rate of ice sheet itself, and this rate varies quite a bit from eastern to western Greenland. Dr. Poinar is using numerical models, enhanced by remote-sensing observations, to probe the effects of meltwater on ice flow.
Dr. Poinar also works to leverage the extensive observations from the UB Remote Sensing Laboratory into developing numeric models that predict how the ice flows. Glaciologists are continually working to make our ice-sheet models, which are based on physics spanning the most basic level (Newton’s Second Law) to complexities at the microscopic level (rheology of ice), more complete. The ice-sheet models are already quite good, but as we compare them to the wealth of observations provided by NASA and other remote-sensing programs, we are able to add new processes to them that make them even more accurate. Dr. Poinar identifies missing processes (e.g. the transit of meltwater to the ice-sheet base) and works to incorporate them into ice-sheet models
Dr. Poinar teaches undergraduates in climate change and geophysics, and graduate students in glaciology and reading seminars.
Students who are interested in studying ice flow, glacier hydrology, or other related topics should drop Dr. Poinar an email or office visit.
Dr. Poinar holds a Ph.D. in geophysics from the University of Washington (Seattle) and bachelors degrees in physics and English from Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland).