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Sensitivity of Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica, to changes in ice-shelf and basal conditions: a model study

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We use a finite-element model of coupled ice-stream/ice-shelf flow to study the sensitivity of Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica, to changes in ice-shelf and basal conditions. By tuning a softening coefficient of the ice along the glacier margins, and a basal friction coefficient controlling the distribution of basal shear stress underneath the ice stream, we are able to match model velocity to that observed with interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR). We use the model to investigate the effect of small perturbations on ice flow. We find that a 5.5-13% reduction in our initial ice-shelf area increases the glacier velocity by 3.5-10% at the grounding line. The removal of the entire ice shelf increases the grounding-line velocity by >70%. The changes in velocity associated with ice-shelf reduction are felt several tens of km inland. Alternatively, a 5% reduction in basal shear stress increases the glacier velocity by 13% at the grounding line. By contrast, softening of the glacier side margins would have to be increased a lot more to produce a comparable change in ice velocity. Hence, both the ice-shelf buttressing and the basal shear stress contribute significant resistance to the flow of Pine Island Glacier.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2002

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  • The Journal of Glaciology is published six times per year. It accepts submissions from any discipline related to the study of snow and ice. All articles are peer reviewed. The Journal is included in the ISI Science Citation Index.
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