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Permanent fast flow versus cyclic surge behaviour: numerical simulations of the Austfonna ice cap, Svalbard

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A large part of the ice flux within ice caps occurs through spatially limited fast-flowing units. Some of them permanently maintain fast flow, whereas others operate in an oscillatory mode, characterized by short-lived active phases followed by long quiescent phases. This surge-type behaviour results from intrinsic rather than external factors, thus complicating estimates of glacier response to climate change. Here we present numerical model results from Austfonna, an ice cap on Svalbard that comprises several surge-type basins. Previous studies have suggested a thermally controlled soft-bed surge mechanism for Svalbard. We systematically change the parameters that govern the nature of basal motion and thereby control the transition between permanent and oscillatory fast flow. Surge-type behaviour is realized by a relatively abrupt onset of basal sliding when basal temperatures approach the pressure-melting point and enhanced sliding of marine grounded ice. Irrespective of the dynamic regime, the absence of considerable volumes of temperate ice, both in the observed and simulated ice cap, indicates that fast flow is accomplished by basal motion over a temperate bed. Given an idealized present-day climate, the equilibrium ice-cap size varies significantly, depending on the chosen parameters.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: April 1, 2011

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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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