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An observationally validated theory of viscous flow dynamics at the ice-shelf calving front

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An analytical theory is developed for ice flow velocity in a boundary layer couplet at the calving front. The theory has simple quantitative characteristics that relate ice front velocity to thickness, strain rate and shelf width, matching one set of empirically derived relationships (Alley and others, 2008) and implying that these relationships predict ice velocity rather than calving rate. The two boundary layers are where longitudinal and transverse flow fields change from the interior flow to patterns consistent with the calving-front stress condition. Numerical simulations confirm the analytical theory. The quantitative predictions of the theory have low sensitivity to unmeasured parameters and to shelf plan aspect ratio, while its robustness arises from its dependence on the scale invariance of the governing equations. The theory provides insights into calving, the stability of ice-shelf calving fronts, the stability of the grounding line of laterally resisted ice streams, and also suggests that the calving front is an instructive dynamical analogue to the grounding line.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: April 1, 2012

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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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