How dynamic are ice-stream beds?

Damon Davies (Corresponding Author), Robert G. Bingham, Edward C. King, Andrew M. Smith, Alex M. Brisbourne, Matteo Spagnolo, Alistair G C Graham, Anna E Hogg, David G. Vaughan

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Abstract

Projections of sea-level rise contributions from West Antarctica's dynamically thinning ice streams contain high uncertainty because some of the key processes involved are extremely challenging to observe. An especially poorly observed parameter is sub-decadal stability of ice-stream beds, which may be important for subglacial traction, till continuity and landform development. Only two previous studies have made repeated geophysical measurements of ice-stream beds at the same locations in different years, but both studies were limited in spatial extent. Here, we present the results from repeat radar measurements of the bed of Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica, conducted 3–6 years apart, along a cumulative ∼ 60 km of profiles. Analysis of the correlation of bed picks between repeat surveys shows that 90 % of the bed displays no significant change despite the glacier increasing in speed by up to 40 % over the last decade. We attribute the negligible detection of morphological change at the bed of Pine Island Glacier to the ubiquitous presence of a deforming till layer, wherein sediment transport is in steady state, such that sediment is transported along the basal interface without inducing morphological change to the radar-sounded basal interface. Given the precision of our measurements, the upper limit of subglacial erosion observed here is 500 mm a−1, far exceeding erosion rates reported for glacial settings from proglacial sediment yields, but substantially below subglacial erosion rates of 1.0 m a−1 previously reported from repeat geophysical surveys in West Antarctica.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1615-1628
Number of pages14
JournalThe Cryosphere
Volume12
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2018

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    Davies, D., Bingham, R. G., King, E. C., Smith, A. M., Brisbourne, A. M., Spagnolo, M., Graham, A. G. C., Hogg, A. E., & Vaughan, D. G. (2018). How dynamic are ice-stream beds? The Cryosphere, 12(5), 1615-1628. https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2017-214, https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-12-1615-2018