Subglacial thermal balance permits ongoing grounding-line retreat along the Siple Coast of West Antarctica

  • Parizek B
  • Alley R
  • Hulbe C
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Changes in the discharge of West Antarctic ice streams are of potential concern with respect to global sea level. The six relatively thin, fast-flowing Ross ice streams are of interest as low-slope end-members among Antarctic ice streams. Extensive research has demonstrated that these "rivers of ice" have a history of relatively high-frequency (less than or equal to O(100) years), asynchronous discharge variations with evolving lateral boundaries. Amidst this variability, a similar to1300 km grounding-line retreat has occurred since the Last Glacial Maximum. Numerical studies of Ice Stream D (Parizek and others, 2002) indicate that a proposed thermal-regulation mechanism (Clarke and Marshall, 1998; Hulbe and MacAyeal, 1999; Tulaczyk and others, 2000a,b), which could buffer the West Antarctic ice sheet against complete collapse, may be over-ridden by latent-heat transport within meltwater from beneath inland ice. Extending these studies to Ice Stream A, Whillans Ice Stream and Ice Stream C suggests that further grounding-line retreat contributing to sea-level rise is possible thermodynamically. However, the efficiency of basal water distribution may be a constraint on the system. Because local thermal deficits promote basal freeze-on (especially on topographic highs), observed short-term variability is likely to persist.

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