Collaborative Research: Tidal Modulation of Ice Stream Flow
This award supports a project to investigate the new-found, startling sensitivity of two major West Antarctic ice streams to tidal oscillations to learn the extent and character of the effect and its ramifications for future ice-stream behavior. Ice streams D, C and Whillans (B) all show strong but distinct tidal signals. The ice plain of Whillans is usually stopped outright, forward motion being limited to two brief periods each day, at high tide and on the falling tide. Motion events propagate across the ice plain at seismic wave velocities. Near the mouth of D, tides cause a diurnal variation of about 50% in ice-stream speed that propagates upglacier more slowly than on Whillans, and seismic data show that C experiences even slower upglacier propagation of tidal signals. Tidal influences are observed more than 100 km upglacier on C, more than 40 km upglacier on D, and may be responsible for fluctuations in basal water pressure reported 400 km upstream on Whillans, nearly the full length of the ice stream. During the first year, the spatial extent of this behavior will be measured on Whillans Ice Stream and ice stream D by five coordinated seismic and GPS instrument packages at 100-km spacing on each ice stream. These packages will be deployed by Twin Otter at sites selected by review of satellite imagery and will operate autonomously through a combination of solar and battery power for two lunar cycles to study the sensitivity of the ice stream motion to spring and neap tides. Additionally, existing data sets will be examined further for clues to the mechanisms involved, and preliminary models will be developed to reconcile the seemingly contrasting behaviors observed on the ice streams. The second and third field seasons will examine in greater detail the tidal behavior of Whillans (year 2) and D (year 3). Work will especially focus on detailed study of at least one source area for events on Whillans, assuming that source areas inferred from preliminary data remain active. Vertical motions have not yet been detected, but differential GPS will increase our detection sensitivity. Seismic instrumentation will greatly increase temporal resolution and the ability to measure the propagation speed and any spatial heterogeneity. Modeling will be refined as more is learned from the field experiments. The project should yield numerous broader impacts. The improved knowledge of ice-stream behavior from this study will contribute to assessment of the potential for rapid ice-sheet change affecting global sea level with societal consequences. Results will be disseminated through scientific publication and talks at professional meetings, as well as contacts with the press, university classes taught by the PIs, visits to schools and community groups, and other activities. Two graduate students will be educated through the project.
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