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Shear resistance and continuity of subglacial till: hydrology rules

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The field observations of G.S. Boulton stimulated widespread interest in deformable beds. Shear resistance of till in its critical state is insensitive to strain rate and increases linearly with effective pressure. During unsteady deformation, pseudo-viscous shear resistance can be caused by dilation of consolidated tills and resultant pore-pressure decline. This effect is probably uncommon, however, because susceptible tills of low hydraulic diffusivity are also those least likely to consolidate significantly during effective-pressure transients. Stick–slip motion at Whillans Ice Stream, Antarctica, indicates that its basal till must weaken during rapid slip and strengthen during longer periods of slower slip. Recurrence intervals for rapid-slip episodes there (6–18 hours) indicate that till-strength variations, if driven by changes in pore pressure either related or unrelated to basal freezing, are focused in the uppermost several centimeters of the bed. Ploughing of grains at the bed surface and associated excess pore pressures in adjacent till can account for rate-weakening during rapid slip, with pore-pressure decay causing strengthening between slip episodes. By promoting shallow, sluggish subglacial water flow and low effective pressure, soft beds may help sustain themselves by slowing their own transport. Soft-bed shear resistance, kinematics and continuity are problems rooted in subglacial hydrology.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2010-12-01

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