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On the coupled response to ice-shelf basal melting

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Ice-shelf basal melting is tightly coupled to ice-shelf morphology. Ice shelves, in turn, are coupled to grounded ice via their influence on compressive stress at the grounding line ('ice-shelf buttressing'). Here, we examine this interaction using a local parameterization that relates the basal melt rate to the ice-shelf thickness gradient. This formulation permits a closed-form solution for a steady-state ice tongue. Time-dependent numerical simulations reveal the spatial and temporal evolution of ice-shelf/ice-stream systems in response to changes in ocean temperature, and the influence of morphology-dependent melting on grounding-line retreat. We find that a rapid (<1 year) re-equilibration in upstream regions of ice shelves establishes a spatial pattern of basal melt rates (relative to the grounding line) that persists over centuries. Coupling melting to ice-shelf shape generally, but not always, increases grounding-line retreat rates relative to a uniform distribution with the same areaaverage melt rate. Because upstream ice-shelf thickness gradients and retreat rates increase nonlinearly with thermal forcing, morphology-dependent melting is more important to the response of weakly buttressed, strongly forced ice streams grounded on beds that slope upwards towards the ocean (e.g. those in the Amundsen Sea).

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2012-04-01

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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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