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Thermal regime and dynamics of the West Antarctic ice sheet

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The temperature–depth profiles measured in 22 boreholes drilled on the West Antarctic ice sheet exhibit two distinctly different thermal states of its basal ice. The warm state shows on Siple Dome and on Whillans Ice Stream. A relatively colder state, found at the Unicorn, Kamb Ice Stream (former Ice Stream C) and Bindschadler Ice Stream (former Ice Stream D), has basal temperature gradients greater than 50 K km−1. A large block of cold ice stranded and frozen to the bed at the Unicorn and simultaneously much warmer ice existing only a few kilometers across the Dragon shear margin in fast-moving Alley Ice Stream (former Ice Stream B2) poses a paradox. The relatively cold ice at the Unicorn must have come from a source different from the present Whillans Ice Stream catchment area. It is hypothesized that the Unicorn paradox was created by a super-surge. Also, the stagnant Siple Ice Stream, many relict shear margins, cold patches of ice at the Crary Ice Rise, ice rafts embedded in the Ross Ice Shelf, all point to a major event triggered either by an internal instability or by a subareal volcanic eruption. Most of these features appeared to have been formed about 500 years ago. Subsequent freeze-on of a 10–20 m thick basal layer of debris-laden ice and water loss caused a slow-down of ice streams and, in the case of Kamb Ice Stream, an almost complete stoppage.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2004-06-01

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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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