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Melting and freezing beneath the Ross ice streams, Antarctica

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We have estimated temperature gradients and melt rates at the bottom of the ice streams in West Antarctica. Measured velocities were used to include the effects of horizontal advection and strain heating in the temperature model and to determine shear heating at the bed. Our modeled temperatures agree well with measured temperatures from boreholes in regions of steady flow. We find that ice-stream tributaries and the inland ice account for about 87% of the total melt generated beneath the Ross ice streams and their catchments. Our estimates indicate that the ice plains of Whillans Ice Stream and Ice Stream C (even when active) have large areas subject to basal freezing, confirming earlier estimates that import of water from upstream is necessary to sustain motion. The relatively low melt rates onWhillans Ice Stream are consistent with observations of deceleration over the last few decades and suggest a shutdown may take place in the future, possibly within this century. While there are pockets of basal freezing beneath Ice Streams D and E, there are larger areas of basal melt that produce enough melt to more than offset the freezing, which is consistent with inferences of relatively steady flow for these ice streams over the last millennium.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2004

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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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