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Streamlined bedrock terrain and fast ice flow, Jakobshavns Isbrae, West Greenland: implications for ice stream and ice sheet dynamics

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This study investigates the marginal subglacial bedrock bedforms of Jakobshavns Isbrae, West Greenland, in order to examine the processes governing bedform evolution in ice stream and ice sheet areas, and to reconstruct the interplay between ice stream and ice sheet dynamics. Differences in bedform morphology (roche moutonnée or whaleback) are used to explore contrasts in basal conditions between fast and slow ice flow. Bedform density is higher in ice stream areas and whalebacks are common. We interpret that this is related to higher ice velocities and thicker ice which suppress bed separation. However, modification of whalebacks by plucking occurs during deglaciation due to ice thinning, flow deceleration, crevassing and fluctuations in basal water pressure. The bedform evidence points to widespread basal sliding during past advances of Jakobshavns Isbrae. This was encouraged by increased basal temperatures and melting at depth, as well as the steep marginal gradients of Jakobshavns Isfjord which allowed rapid downslope evacuation of meltwater leading to strong ice/bedrock coupling and scouring. In contrast to soft-bedded ice stream bedforms, the occurrence of fixed basal perturbations and higher bed roughness in rigid bed settings prevents the basal ice subsole from maintaining a stable form which, coupled with secondary plucking, counteracts the development of bedforms with high elongation ratios. Cross-cutting striae and double-plucked, rectilinear bedforms suggest that Jakobshavns Isbrae became partially unconfined during growth phases, causing localised diffluent flow and changes in ice sheet dynamics around Disko Bugt. It is likely that Disko Bugt harboured a convergent ice flow system during repeated glacial cycles, resulting in the formation of a large coalesced ice stream which reached the continental shelf edge.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of Durham, Science Laboratories, South Road, Durham, DH1 3LE, UK, Email:

Publication date: February 1, 2005

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