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Increased water storage at ice-stream onsets: a critical mechanism?

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The interdependence of rapid ice flow, surface topography and the spatial distribution of subglacial water are examined by linking existing theories. The motivation is to investigate whether the acceleration of an ice-stream tributary contains a positive feedback that encourages the retention of subglacial water that leads to faster flow. Periodically varying surface and bed topographies are related through a linear ice-flow perturbation theory for various values of mean surface slope, perturbation amplitude and basal sliding speeds. The topographic variations lead to a periodic variation in hydraulic potential that is used to infer the tendency for subglacial water to be retained in local hydraulic potential minima. If water retention leads to enhanced basal sliding, a positive feedback loop is closed that could explain the transition from slower tributary flow to faster-streaming flow and the sustained downstream acceleration along the tributary–ice-stream system. A sensitivity study illustrates that the same range of topographic wavelengths most effectively transmitted from the bed to the surface also strongly influences the behavior of subglacial water. A lubrication index is defined to qualitatively measure the heterogeneity of the subglacial hydrologic system. Application of this index to field data shows that the transition from tributary to ice stream closely agrees with the location where subglacial water may be first stored.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 2007

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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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