Research ArticleGEOLOGY

Basal channels drive active surface hydrology and transverse ice shelf fracture

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Science Advances  13 Jun 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 6, eaao7212
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao7212

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Abstract

Ice shelves control sea-level rise through frictional resistance, which slows the seaward flow of grounded glacial ice. Evidence from around Antarctica indicates that ice shelves are thinning and weakening, primarily driven by warm ocean water entering into the shelf cavities. We have identified a mechanism for ice shelf destabilization where basal channels underneath the shelves cause ice thinning that drives fracture perpendicular to flow. These channels also result in ice surface deformation, which diverts supraglacial rivers into the transverse fractures. We report direct evidence that a major 2016 calving event at Nansen Ice Shelf in the Ross Sea was the result of fracture driven by such channelized thinning and demonstrate that similar basal channel–driven transverse fractures occur elsewhere in Greenland and Antarctica. In the event of increased basal and surface melt resulting from rising ocean and air temperatures, ice shelves will become increasingly vulnerable to these tandem effects of basal channel destabilization.

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