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Force-perturbation analysis of Pine Island Glacier, Antarctica, suggests cause for recent acceleration

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Pine Island Glacier, flowing into the Amundsen Sea from West Antarctica, thinned substantially during the 1990s, its grounding line receded by several km, and its velocity increased by >10% to values approaching 3 km a−1. Here, we use these observations, together with estimates of ice thickness and surface strain rates, to estimate the perturbation in forces resisting ice flow compatible with the observations. The analysis assumes that such perturbations are transmitted far upstream from where they originate, and that creep response to the perturbations can be described by equations similar to those that govern ice-shelf creep. It indicates that observed acceleration between 1996 and 2000 could have been caused by progressive ungrounding within the most seaward 25 km 'ice plain' of the grounded glacier. Earlier retreat and thinning of the glacier's floating ice shelf may have provided the conditions that initiated ungrounding of the ice plain. Our analysis indicates that continued ice-plain thinning at the current rate of about 2 m a−1 will result in a velocity increase by 1 km a−1 within the next 11 years as the ice plain becomes totally ungrounded.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2004

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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.

    Themes can be on any aspect of the study of snow and ice. Individual members can make a suggestion for a theme for an Annals issue to the Secretary General, who will forward it to the IGS Publications Committee. The IGS Publication Committee will make a recommendation for an individual themed Annals issue, together with a potential Annals Chief Editor for that issue, to IGS Council. The IGS Council will make the decision whether to proceed, taking into account the spread of topics and the overall capacity for publication of pages in Annals.

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