Project Information
Microstructural Evolution during Superplastic Ice Creep
Start Date:
End Date:
The seaward motion of ice sheets and glaciers is primarily controlled by basal sliding below, and internal viscous flow within, ice masses. The latter of these—viscous flow—is dependent on various factors, including temperature, stress, grain size, and the alignment of ice crystals during flow to produce a crystal orientation fabric (COF). Historically, ice flow has been modeled using a constitutive equation, termed “Glen’s law”, that describes ice flow rate as a function of temperature and stress. Glen’s law was constrained under relatively high-stress conditions, and is often attributed to the motion of crystal defects within ice grains. More recently, however, grain boundary sliding (GBS) has been invoked as the rate-controlling process under low-stress, “superplastic” conditions. The grain boundary sliding hypothesis is contentious because GBS is not thought to produce a COF, whereas geophysical measurements and polar ice cores demonstrate strong COFs in polar ice masses. However, very few COF measurements have been conducted on ice samples subjected to superplastic flow conditions in the laboratory. In this project, the PI primarily seeks to measure the evolution of ice COF across the transition from superplastic to Glen-type creep. Results will be used to interrogate the role of superplastic GBS creep within polar ice masses, and thereby provide constraints on polar ice discharge models. Polycrystalline ice samples with grain sizes ranging from 5 µm to 1000 µm will be fabricated and deformed in the PI’s laboratory at WHOI, using a 1-atm cryogenic axial-torsion apparatus. Experiments will be conducted at temperatures of −30°C to −10°C, and at a constant uniaxial strain rate of 10-7 s-1. Under these conditions, 5% to 99.99% of strain should be accommodated by superplastic, GBS-limited creep, depending on the sample grain size. The deformed samples will then be imaged using cryogenic electron backscatter diffraction (cryo-EBSD) and high-angular-resolution electron backscatter diffraction (HR-EBSD) to quantify COF, grain size, grain shape, and crystal defect (dislocation) densities, among other microstructural properties. These measurements will be used to decipher the rate-controlling mechanisms operating within different thermomechanical regimes, and resolve a long-standing debate over whether superplastic creep can produce a COF in ice. In addition to the polycrystal experiments, ice bicrystals will be fabricated and deformed to investigate the micromechanical behavior of individual grain boundaries under superplastic conditions. Ultimately, these results will be used to provide a microstructural toolbox for identifying superplastic creep using geophysical (e.g., seismic, radar) and glaciological (e.g., ice core) observations. This project will support one graduate student within the MIT-WHOI Joint Program, one or more undergraduate summer students, and a junior faculty member (the PI). In addition, the PI will host a workshop aimed at bringing together experimentalists, glaciologists, and ice modelers to facilitate cross-disciplinary knowledge sharing and collaborative problem solving.
Person Role
Cross, Andrew Investigator and contact
Antarctic Glaciology Award # 2317263
AMD - DIF Record(s)
Data Management Plan
Product Level:
1 (processed data)

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