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Numerical investigations of the slow-down of Whillans Ice Stream, West Antarctica: is it shutting down like Ice Stream C?

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We investigate whether the recent slow-down of Whillans Ice Stream (WIS), West Antarctica, may lead to its complete stoppage in the near future, using a numerical model. Basal resistance to ice-stream motion is represented by a continuous till layer whose strength changes in response to basal melting and freezing. We implement a basal drainage system, which acts to hinder ice-stream stoppage through supply of extra water to those parts of the bed that are experiencing freezing. The ice module is a standard flowline model with parameterized key out-of-plane effects (Raymond, 1996). The most important result of our modeling effort is that we never obtained a slow-down that would not be followed by a complete stoppage within <100 years. WIS slow-down can be avoided in the model if large basal water-input rates are assumed, to satisfy basal freezing. In comparison, the tested perturbations in WIS width and mass balance had a relatively small effect on the tendency of the simulated ice stream to slow down. These results underscore the need for more quantitative constraints on the efficiency of sub-ice-stream water drainage. We conjecture that the present-day slow-down of WIS will evolve to shut-down in the next few decades, unless an addition of basal water prevents freeze-on-driven bed strengthening.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2003-06-01

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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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