The Flow Of The Tce Sheets

In general, the flow of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets is not directed radially outward to the sea. Instead, ice from central high points tends to converge into discrete drainage basins and then concentrate into rapidly flowing ice streams. (Such so-called streams are currents of ice that move several times faster than the ice on either side of them.) The ice of much of East Antarctica has a rather simple shape with several subtle high points or domes. Greenland resembles an elongated dome, or ridge, with two summits. West Antarctica is a complex of converging and diverging flow because of the jumble of ridges and troughs in the subglacial bedrock and the convergence of ice streams.

Flow rates in the interior of an ice sheet are very low, being measured in centimetres or metres per year, because the surface slope is minuscule and the ice is very cold. As the ice moves outward, the rate of flow increases to a few tens of metres per year, and this rate of flow increases still further, up to 1 km (0.6 mile) per year, as the flow is channeled into outlet glaciers or ice streams. Ice shelves continue the flow and even cause it to increase, because ice spreads out in ever thinner layers. At the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, ice is moving out about 900 metres (2,950 feet) per year toward the ocean.

This simple picture of ice flow is made more complicated by the dependence of the flow law of ice on temperature. Because a temperature increase of about i5°C (27°F) causes a 10-fold increase in the deformation rate of ice, the temperature distribution of an ice sheet partly determines its flow structure. The cold ice of the central part of an ice sheet is carried down into warmer zones. This shift modifies the static temperature distribution, and the shear deformation is concentrated in a thin zone of warmer ice at the base. The forward velocity may be almost uniform throughout the depth to within a few tens or hundreds of metres from the bedrock.

Another important effect on ice flow is the heat produced by friction, caused by the sliding of the ice on bedrock or by internal shearing within the basal ice. If a portion of the ice sheet deforms more rapidly than its surroundings, the slight amount of extra heat production raises the temperature of this portion, causing it to deform even more readily. This increased deformation may explain the phenomena of ice streams, which are very effective in moving ice from large drainage areas of Antarctica and Greenland out to ice shelves or to the sea. It is known that at least one Antarctic ice stream moves rapidly on a layer of water-charged deforming sediment; a nearby ice stream appears to have ceased rapid movement in the past several hundred years, perhaps owing to loss of its sediment layer.

0 0

Post a comment