Going Away with the Flow?

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Science  21 Sep 2001:
Vol. 293, Issue 5538, pp. 2171
DOI: 10.1126/science.293.5538.2171d

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) contains enough ice that sea level would rise by approximately 5 meters if it were to melt completely in response to global warming. Even in the absence of large catastrophic collapse, the factors that control the transition from slow inland ice flow, dominated by internal deformation, to streaming flow, dominated by basal sliding, are important to understand in order to predict how the ice sheet will evolve and how much the sea level might rise. It has been suggested that a soft sedimentary bed may provide material to form a lubricating layer that allows ice streams to develop.

Studinger et al. tested this proposal by using aerogeophysical data to estimate the distribution of marine subglacial sediments and fault-bounded sedimentary basins beneath the WAIS. They find that significant ice flow occurs exclusively in regions covered by subglacial sediments. The distribution of subglacial sediments therefore can provide a template for ice flow and has the potential to modulate the evolution of ice streams and the WAIS. — HJS

Geophys. Res. Lett.28, 3493 (2001).

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