Dynamic (in)stability of Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica

B. R. Parizek, K. Christianson, S. Anandakrishnan, R. B. Alley, R. T. Walker, R. A. Edwards, D. S. Wolfe, G. T. Bertini, S. K. Rinehart, R. A. Bindschadler, and S. M. Nowicki

Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface (1 June 2013)

DOI: 10.1002/jgrf.20044

Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica, has the potential to directly contribute ∼1 m to sea level and currently is losing mass and thinning rapidly. Here, we report on regional results for the Sea-level Response to Ice Sheet Evolution (SeaRISE) experiments and investigate the impact of i) spatial resolution within existing data sets, ii) grounding-zone processes, and iii) till rheology on the dynamics of this outlet glacier. In addition to the SeaRISE data sets, we use detailed aerogeophysical and satellite data from Thwaites Glacier as input to a coupled ice stream/ice-shelf/ocean-plume model that includes oceanic influences across a several kilometers wide grounding zone suggested by new, high-resolution data. Our results indicate that the ice tongue provides limited stability, and that while future atmospheric warming will likely add mass to the surface of the glacier, strong ice stream stabilization on bedrock highs narrower than the length of the grounding zone may be ephemeral if circulating waters substantially reduce basal resistance and enhance melting beneath grounded ice within this zone. However, we find that stability is significantly enhanced by effectively plastic till beds. Accurate projections of future sea level change relies on correct understanding of the till rheology as well as local basal processes near the grounding line.

keywords: glaciers; glaciology; modeling; dynamics; subglacial processes; radar; 0720 Glaciers; 0776 Glaciology; 0798 Modeling; 0774 Dynamics; 0758 Remote sensing

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