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Simultaneous teleseismic and geodetic observations of the stick-slip motion of an Antarctic ice stream

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Matt King


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Long-period seismic sources associated with glacier motion have been recently discovered, and an increase in ice flow over the past decade has been suggested on the basis of secular changes in such measurements. Their significance, however, remains uncertain, as a relationship to ice flow has not been confirmed by direct observation. Here we combine long-period surface-wave observations with simultaneous Global Positioning System measurements of ice displacement to study the tidally modulated stick-slip motion of the Whillans Ice Stream in West Antarctica. The seismic origin time corresponds to slip nucleation at a region of the bed of the Whillans Ice Stream that is likely stronger than in surrounding regions and, thus, acts like an 'asperity' in traditional fault models. In addition to the initial pulse, two seismic arrivals occurring 10-23 minutes later represent stopping phases as the slip terminates at the ice stream edge and the grounding line. Seismic amplitude and average rupture velocity are correlated with tidal amplitude for the different slip events during the spring-to-neap tidal cycle. Although the total seismic moment calculated from ice rigidity, slip displacement, and rupture area is equivalent to an earthquake of moment magnitude seven (Mw 7), seismic amplitudes are modest (Ms 3.6-4.2), owing to the source duration of 20-30 minutes. Seismic radiation from ice movement is proportional to the derivative of the moment rate function at periods of 25-100 seconds and very long-period radiation is not detected, owing to the source geometry. Long-period seismic waves are thus useful for detecting and studying sudden ice movements but are insensitive to the total amount of slip. ©2008 Nature Publishing Group.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Wiens DA, Anandakrishnan S, Winberry JP, King MA

Publication type: Letter

Publication status: Published

Journal: Nature

Year: 2008

Volume: 453

Issue: 7196

Pages: 770-774

ISSN (print): 0028-0836

ISSN (electronic): 1476-4687


DOI: 10.1038/nature06990