Bed conditions of Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica

A. M. Brisbourne, A. M. Smith, D. G. Vaughan, E. C. King, D. Davies, R. G. Bingham, E. C. Smith, I. Nias, S. H. R. Rosier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Although 90% of Antarctica's discharge occurs via its fast-flowing ice streams, our ability to project future ice-sheet response has been limited by poor observational constraints on the ice-bed conditions used in numerical models to determine basal slip. We have helped address this observational deficit by acquiring and analysing a series of seismic reflection profiles to determine basal conditions beneath the main trunk and tributaries of Pine Island Glacier (PIG), West Antarctica. Seismic profiles indicate large-scale sedimentary deposits. Combined with seismic reflection images, measured acoustic impedance values indicate relatively uniform bed conditions directly beneath the main trunk and tributaries, comprising a widespread reworked sediment layer with a dilated sediment lid of minimum thickness 1.5 ± 0.4 m. Beneath a slow-moving inter-tributary region, a discrete low-porosity sediment layer of 7 ± 3 m thickness is imaged. Despite considerable basal topography, seismic observations indicate that a till layer at the ice base is ubiquitous beneath PIG, which requires a highly mobile sediment body to maintain an abundant supply. These results are compatible with existing ice-sheet models used to invert for basal shear stress: existing basal conditions upstream will not inhibit further rapid retreat of PIG if the high-friction region currently restraining flow, directly upstream of the grounding line, is breached. However, small changes in the pressure regime at the bed, as a result of stress reorganisation following retreat, may result in a less-readily deformable bed and conditions which are less likely to maintain high ice-flow rates.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Early online date22 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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