A theory of glacier dynamics and instabilities Part 2: Flatbed ice streams

Ou, Hsien Wang

In Part 1, we have considered the dynamics of topographically confined glaciers, which may undergo surge cycles when the bed becomes temperate. In this Part 2, we consider the ice discharge over a flatbed, which would self-organize into alternating stream/ridge pairs of wet/frozen beds. The meltwater drainage, no longer curbed by the bed trough, would counter the conductive cooling to render a minimum bed strength at some intermediate width, toward which the stream would evolve over centennial timescale. At this stationary state, the stream width is roughly twice the geometric mean of the stream height and length, which is commensurate with its observed width. Over a flatbed, streams invariably interact, and we deduce that the neighboring ones would exhibit compensating cycles of maximum velocity and stagnation over the centennial timescale. This deduction is consistent with observed time variation of Ross ice streams B and C (ISB/C), which is thus a manifestation of the natural cycle. Moreover, the model uncovers an overlooked mechanism of the ISC stagnation: as ISB widens following its reactivation, it narrows ISC to augment the loss of the meltwater, leading to its stagnation. This stagnation is preceded by ice thickening hence opposite to the thinning-induced surge termination.


Also Published In

Journal of Glaciology

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Published Here
December 3, 2021