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Variable deceleration of Whillans Ice Stream, West Antarctica

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Matt King


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The Whillans Ice Stream Ice Plain (WIP) has been slowing since at least 1963. Prior constraints on this slowdown were consistent with a constant long-term deceleration rate. New observations of ice velocity from 11 continuous and 3 seasonal GPS sites indicate the deceleration rate varies through time including on interannual time scales. Between 2009 and 2012 WIP decelerated at a rate (6.1 to 10.9 2 m/yr(2)) that was double the multidecadal average (3.0 to 5.6 2 m/yr(2)). To identify the causes of slowdown, we used new and prior velocity estimates to constrain longitudinal and transverse force budget models as well as a higher-order inverse model. All model results support the conclusion that the observed deceleration of WIP is caused by an increase in basal resistance to motion at a rate of 10 to 40 Pa/yr. Subglacial processes that may be responsible for strengthening the ice stream bed include basal freeze on, changes in subglacial hydrology, or increases in the area of resistant basal substrate through differential erosion. The observed variability in WIP deceleration rate suggests that dynamics in subglacial hydrology, plausibly driven by basal freeze on and/or activity of subglacial lakes, plays a key role in modulating basal resistance to ice motion in the region.Key Points Whillans ice Stream deceleration is variable including a recent doubling Deceleration is attributable to a 10 to 40 Pa/yr increase in basal drag Subglacial hydrology and thermodynamic feedbacks can explain deceleration

Publication metadata

Author(s): Beem LH, Tulaczyk SM, King MA, Bougamont M, Fricker HA, Christoffersen P

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Geophysical Research

Year: 2014

Volume: 119

Issue: 2

Pages: 212-224

Print publication date: 07/02/2014

ISSN (print): 2169-9003

ISSN (electronic): 2169-9011

Publisher: American Geophysical Union


DOI: 10.1002/2013JF002958


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Funder referenceFunder name
ANT0636970National Science Foundation Section for Antarctic Sciences
ANT0838947National Science Foundation Section for Antarctic Sciences
ANT0839142National Science Foundation Section for Antarctic Sciences
FT110100207Australian Research Council