How dynamic are ice-stream beds?

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. 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 show that 90 % of the ice-stream 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 bed. Significant change was only detected in one 500 m section of the bed where a change in bed morphology occurs with a difference in vertical amplitude of 3–5 m. Given the precision of our measurements, the maximum possible erosion rate that could go undetected along our profiles is 500 mm a-1, far exceeding erosion rates reported for glacial settings from proglacial sediment yields, but substantially below subglacial erosion rates of 1000 mm a-1 previously reported from repeat geophysical surveys in West Antarctica.

Details

Publication status:
Published
Author(s):
Authors: Davies, Damon, Bingham, Robert G., King, Edward C., Smith, Andrew M., Brisbourne, Alex M., Spagnolo, Matteo, Graham, Alastair G. C., Hogg, Anna E., Vaughan, David G.

On this site: Alex Brisbourne, Andy Smith, David Vaughan, Edward King
Date:
4 May, 2018
Journal/Source:
The Cryosphere / 12
Page(s):
1615-1628
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-12-1615-2018