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Debris characteristics and ice-shelf dynamics in the ablation region of the McMurdo Ice Shelf, Antarctica

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This paper presents observations and measurements of debris characteristics and ice-shelf dynamics in the ablation region of the McMurdo Ice Shelf in the Ross Sea sector of Antarctica. Ice-shelf surface processes and dynamics are inferred from a combination of sedimentological descriptions, ground-penetrating radar investigations and through ablation, velocity and ice-thickness measurements. Field data show that in the study area the ice shelf moves relatively slowly (1.5–18.3 m a−1), has high ablation rates (43–441 mm during 2003/04 summer) and is thin (6–22 m). The majority of debris on the ice shelf was originally transported into the area by a large and dynamic ice-sheet/ice-shelf system at the Last Glacial Maximum. This debris is concentrated on the ice-shelf surface and is continually redistributed by surface ablation (creating an ice-cored landscape of large debris-rich mounds), ice-shelf flow (forming medial moraines) and meltwater streams (locally reworking material and redistributing it across the ice-shelf surface). A conceptual model for supraglacial debris transport by contemporary Antarctic ice shelves is presented, which emphasizes these links between debris supply, surface ablation and ice-shelf motion. Low-velocity ice shelves such as the McMurdo Ice Shelf can maintain and sequester a debris load for thousands of years, providing a mechanism by which ice shelves can accumulate sufficient debris to contribute to sediment deposition in the oceans.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 2006

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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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