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Stratigraphic variation within polar firn caused by differential accumulation and ice flow: interpretation of a 400 MHz short-pulse radar profile from West Antarctica

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We investigate causes of the stratigraphic variation revealed in a 177 km, 400 MHz short-pulse radar profile of firn from West Antarctica. The profile covers 56 m depth, and its direction was close to those of the ice flow and mean wind. The average, near-surface accumulation rates calculated from the time delays of one radar horizon consistently show minima on leeward slopes and maxima on windward slopes, confirming an earlier study based on stake observations. The stratigraphic variation includes up to 30 m depth variation in individual horizons over tens of km, fold limbs that become progressively steeper with depth, and fold-hinge loci that change direction or propagate down-ice with depth over distances far less than predicted by the ice speeds. We use an accumulation rate model to show how local rate anomalies and the effect of ice speed upon a periodic variation in accumulation rate cause these phenomena, and we reproduce two key features seen in the stratigraphic variations. We conclude that the model provides an explanation of changes in spatial stratigraphy and local measures of accumulation history given the constraints of surface topography, ice and wind velocities, and a general accumulation rate for an area.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2005

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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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