Elmer/Ice News

The role of subtemperate slip in thermally driven ice stream margin migration

haseloff2018The amount of ice discharged by an ice stream depends on its width, and the widths of unconfined ice streams such as the Siple Coast ice streams in West Antarctica have been observed to evolve on decadal to centennial timescales. Thermally driven widening of ice streams provides a mechanism for this observed variability through melting of the frozen beds of adjacent ice ridges. This widening is driven by the heat dissipation in the ice stream margin, where strain rates are high, and at the bed of the ice ridge, where subtemperate sliding is possible. The inflow of cold ice from the neighboring ice ridges impedes ice stream widening. Determining the migration rate of the margin requires resolving conductive and advective heat transfer processes on very small scales in the ice stream margin, and these processes cannot be resolved by large-scale ice sheet models. Here, we exploit the thermal boundary layer structure in the ice stream margin to investigate how the migration rate depends on these different processes. We derive a parameterization of the migration rate in terms of parameters that can be estimated from observations or large-scale model outputs, including the lateral shear stress in the ice stream margin, the ice thickness of the stream, the influx of ice from the ridge, and the bed temperature of the ice ridge. This parameterization will allow the incorporation of ice stream margin migration into large-scale ice sheet models.

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