Project Information
Collaborative Research: Characterizing Brittle Failure and Fracture Propagation in Fast Ice Sliding with Dynamic Rupture Models based on Whillans Ice Stream Seismic/Geodetic Data
Start Date:
End Date:
This project investigates a rapidly moving section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet known as the Whillans Ice Stream. Ice streams and outlet glaciers are the major pathways for ice discharge from ice sheets into the ocean. Consequently, understanding ice stream dynamics, specifically the processes controlling the frictional resistance of ice sliding on sediments at its base, is essential for predictive modeling of how Earth's ice sheets will respond to a changing climate. Rather than flowing smoothly, Whillans Ice Stream advances in stick-slip cycles: brief periods of rapid sliding, equivalent to magnitude 7 earthquakes, alternating with much longer periods of repose. The PIs will perform simulations of these stick-slip cycles using computer codes originally developed for modeling tectonic earthquakes. By matching observed ice motions, the PIs will constrain the range of frictional processes acting at the base of the ice stream. An additional focus of the project is on brittle fracture processes in ice, expressed through seismic waves radiated by faulting and/or crevassing episodes that accompany the large-scale sliding events. An understanding of ice fracture provides a basis for assessing the susceptibility of ice shelves to rifting and catastrophic disintegration. Project results will be incorporated into outreach activities (from elementary school to community college events) as well as a polar science class for the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS) program for high school students.

Simulations of the stick-slip cycle will employ 3D dynamic rupture models that simultaneously solve for the seismic wavefield and rupture process, consistent with elastodynamic material response and friction laws on the ice stream bed. Stresses and frictional properties will be varied to achieve consistency with surface GPS and broadband seismic data as well as borehole seismograms from the WISSARD project. The results will be interpreted using laboratory till friction experiments, which link velocity-weakening/strengthening behavior to temperature and water content, and to related experiments quantifying basal drag from ice flow over rough beds. The source mechanism of seismicity accompanying the slip events (shear faulting versus crevassing) will be determined using 3D waveform modeling in conjunction with mechanical models of the seismic source processes. This proposal does not require fieldwork in the Antarctic.
Person Role
Dunham, Eric Investigator and contact
Antarctic Glaciology Award # 1542885
AMD - DIF Record(s)
Data Management Plan
None in the Database
Product Level:
1 (processed data)
  1. Lipovsky, B. P., & Dunham, E. M. (2017). Slow‐slip events on the Whillans Ice Plain, Antarctica, described using rate‐and‐state friction as an ice stream sliding law. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 122(4), 973–1003. (doi:10.1002/2016jf004183)
  2. Mattsson, K., Dunham, E. M., & Werpers, J. (2018). Simulation of acoustic and flexural-gravity waves in ice-covered oceans. Journal of Computational Physics, 373, 230–252. (doi:10.1016/

This project has been viewed 13 times since May 2019 (based on unique date-IP combinations)