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Life, death and afterlife of the extrusion flow theory

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'Extrusion flow' describes any velocity field where maximum horizontal velocity occurs below the surface. By 1914, viscous flow and basal sliding over rough beds were accepted concepts. Between the world wars, there was little communication between naturalists describing complicated ice sheets, and physicists studying fundamental processes controlling flow. Max Demorest brought concepts from mechanics into glaciology and glacial geology; however, his extrusion flow theory, to explain how ice flowed out of central Greenland, overlooked force imbalance. Rudolf Streiff-Becker found an apparent large imbalance between ice flux discharged through a gate and net accumulation in the upstream catchment at Claridenfirn, Switzerland. Because he underestimated uncertainty in ice depth, he had to propose a strong undercurrent (extrusion flow) to evacuate the excess mass. Reassessment of his assumptions shows that extrusion was actually unnecessary. However, confluence of two lines of evidence for extrusion flow added stature to the concept. In 1952, John Nye showed that free extrusion flow was impossible due to force imbalance. Two forms of extrusion flow survive: capped extrusion flow is possible on local scales where longitudinal stress gradients allow upper ice to move slowly, and rigidbody rotational flow can allow deeper ice to move faster without strain.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2010

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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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