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Tidally driven stick–slip motion in the mouth of Whillans Ice Stream, Antarctica

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We show that the ice plain in the mouth of Whillans Ice Stream (formerly Ice Stream B), Antarctica, moves by stick–slip motion. During a spring-tide period, rapid motions regularly occur near high tide and during falling tide. This correlation is weaker during a neap-tide period when the tidal magnitudes are less. Precise timing of these motion events suggests that they propagate through the region with a mean velocity of 88 m s-1. We hypothesize that this speed is associated with the propagation of shear waves through a wet subglacial till. Motion events are also seen on more smoothly flowing floating ice. Event delays are very short between grounded and floating stations, suggesting the events propagate through the ice shelf as an elastic wave. We further hypothesize the events are caused by the interaction of a sticky bed, the accumulation of stored elastic strain through the compression of ice by upstream inflow, and tidal forcing. Motion events seem to be triggered either by reduction of vertical normal stresses at high tide or by the increase of shear stresses from sub-shelf ocean currents during falling tide. Event magnitudes are not related to the length of the preceding quiescent period, suggesting significant viscous dissipation within the till.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2003-01-01

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  • The Annals of Glaciology is a peer-reviewed, thematic journal published 2 to 4 times a year by the International Glaciological Society (IGS). Publication frequency is determined and volume/issue numbers assigned by the IGS Council on a year-to-year basis and with a lead time of 3 to 4 years. The Annals of Glaciology is included in the ISI Science Citation Index from volume 50, number 50 onwards.

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