Predicting ice sheet mass balance is challenging because of the complex flow of ice streams. To address this issue, we have coupled a three-dimensional higher-order ice sheet model to a basal processes model where subglacial till has a plastic rheology and evolving yield stress. The model was tested for its sensitivity to regional water availability. First, with an assumed undrained bed, the ice stream oscillates between active and stagnant phases, solely as a result of thermodynamic feedbacks occurring at the ice-till interface. However, the velocity amplitude decreases over time, as insufficient basal meltwater causes the ice stream to gradually thicken and enter a slow flowing “ice sheet mode.” Second, we assume that the till is able to assimilate water from a hypothetical regional hydrological system. This leads to significantly different long-term behavior, as a continuously oscillating “ice stream mode” is maintained. The extra water incorporated in the till leads to higher velocities, triggering stronger thermodynamic feedbacks between the ice and till layer. Results also suggest that fast-flowing ice streams may be modulated by till properties as a result of the duration of thermal conditions during the preceding stagnant phase. Similarly, till properties beneath stagnant ice streams are influenced by basal conditions during the preceding fast flow phase. Our findings support the inference that ice streams are strongly influenced by the presence of a regional hydrological system, underscoring the need to accurately describe the coupling between ice dynamics, basal conditions and regional subglacial hydrology in ice sheet models.
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