Skip to main content

Tidal modulation of ice shelf buttressing stresses

  • Alexander A. Robel (a1) (a2), Victor C. Tsai (a1), Brent Minchew (a3) and Mark Simons (a1)

Ocean tides influence the flow of marine-terminating glaciers. Observations indicate that the large fortnightly variations in ice flow at Rutford Ice Stream in West Antarctica originate in the floating ice shelf. We show that nonlinear variations in ice shelf buttressing driven by tides can produce such fortnightly variations in ice flow. These nonlinearities in the tidal modulation of buttressing stresses can be caused by asymmetries in the contact stress from migration of the grounding line and bathymetric pinning points beneath the ice shelf. Using a simple viscoelastic model, we demonstrate that a combination of buttressing and hydrostatic stress variations can explain a diverse range of tidal variations in ice shelf flow, including the period, phase and amplitude of flow variations observed at Rutford and Bindschadler Ice Streams.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Tidal modulation of ice shelf buttressing stresses
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Tidal modulation of ice shelf buttressing stresses
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Tidal modulation of ice shelf buttressing stresses
      Available formats
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Hide All
Anandakrishnan, S and Alley, R (1997) Tidal forcing of basal seismicity of Ice Stream C, West Antarctica, observed far inland. J. Geophys. Res.: Solid Earth, 102(B7), 1518315196
Anandakrishnan, S, Voigt, D, Alley, R and King, M (2003) Ice Stream D flow speed is strongly modulated by the tide beneath the Ross Ice Shelf. Geophys. Res. Lett., 30(7), 1361
Bindschadler, RA, King, MA, Alley, RB, Anandakrishnan, S and Padman, L (2003) Tidally controlled stick-slip discharge of a West Antarctic ice stream. Science, 301(5636), 10871089
Brunt, KM and MacAyeal, DR (2014) Tidal modulation of ice-shelf flow: a viscous model of the Ross Ice Shelf. J. Glaciol., 60(221), 500508
Brunt, KM, King, MA, Fricker, HA and MacAyeal, DR (2010) Flow of the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica, is modulated by the ocean tide. J. Glaciol., 56(195), 157161
Cuffey, K and Paterson, W (2010) The physics of glaciers, 3rd edn. Pergamon, Cambridge, MA, USA.
Doake, C and 6 others (2002) Tide-induced lateral movement of Brunt Ice Shelf, Antarctica. Geophys. Res. Lett., 29(8), 1226
Goldberg, D, Holland, D and Schoof, C (2009) Grounding line movement and ice shelf buttressing in marine ice sheets. J. Geophys. Res., 114, F04026
Goldberg, D, Schoof, C and Sergienko, O (2014) Stick-slip motion of an Antarctic Ice Stream: the effects of viscoelasticity. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 119(7), 15641580
Gudmundsson, GH (2006) Fortnightly variations in the flow velocity of Rutford Ice Stream, West Antarctica. Nature, 444(7122), 10631064
Gudmundsson, GH (2007) Tides and the flow of Rutford Ice Stream, West Antarctica. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 112(F4), F04007
Gudmundsson, GH (2011) Ice-stream response to ocean tides and the form of the basal sliding law. Cryosphere, 5(1), 259270
Harrison, W, Echelmeyer, K and Engelhardt, H (1993) Short-period observations of speed, strain and seismicity on Ice Stream B, Antarctica. J. Glaciol., 39(133), 463470
Heinert, M and Riedel, B (2007) Parametric modelling of the geometrical ice-ocean interaction in the Ekstroemisen grounding zone based on short time-series. Geophys. J. Int., 169(2), 407420
Holdsworth, G (1969) Flexure of a floating ice tongue. J. Glaciol., 8, 385397
King, MA, Makinson, K and Gudmundsson, GH (2011) Nonlinear interaction between ocean tides and the Larsen C Ice Shelf system. Geophys. Res. Lett., 38(8), L08501
Lakes, RS (1998) Viscoelastic solids. CRC press, Boca Raton, FL, USA, vol. 9
Lipovsky, BP and Dunham, EM (2017) Slow-slip events on the Whillans Ice Plain, Antarctica, described using rate-and-state friction as an ice stream sliding law. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 122(4): 9731003
MacAyeal, DR, Sergienko, OV and Banwell, AF (2015) A model of viscoelastic ice-shelf flexure. J. Glaciol., 61(228), 635645
Makinson, K, King, MA, Nicholls, KW and Hilmar Gudmundsson, G (2012) Diurnal and semidiurnal tide-induced lateral movement of Ronne Ice Shelf, Antarctica. Geophys. Res. Lett., 39(10), L10501
Minchew, B, Simons, M, Riel, B and Milillo, P (2017) Tidally induced variations in vertical and horizontal motion on Rutford Ice Stream, West Antarctica, inferred from remotely sensed observations. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 121, 167190 (doi: 10.1002/2016JF003971)
Murray, T, Smith, A, King, M and Weedon, G (2007) Ice flow modulated by tides at up to annual periods at Rutford Ice Stream, West Antarctica. Geophys. Res. Lett., 34(18), L18503
Padman, L, Erofeeva, S and Joughin, I (2003) Tides of the Ross Sea and Ross Ice Shelf cavity. Antarct. Sci., 15(01), 3140
Podrasky, D, Truffer, M, Lüthi, M and Fahnestock, M (2014) Quantifying velocity response to ocean tides and calving near the terminus of Jakobshavn Isbræ, Greenland. J. Glaciol., 60(222), 609621
Pritchard, H and 5 others (2012) Antarctic ice-sheet loss driven by basal melting of ice shelves. Nature, 484(7395), 502505
Reeh, N, Mayer, C, Olesen, OB, Christensen, EL and Thomsen, HH (2000) Tidal movement of Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden Glacier, Northeast Greenland: observations and modelling. Ann. Glaciol., 31(1), 111117
Rignot, E, Mouginot, J and Scheuchl, B (2011) Antarctic grounding line mapping from differential satellite radar interferometry. Geophys. Res. Lett., 38(L10504)
Robertson, R, Padman, L and Egbert, GD (1998) Tides in the Weddell Sea. In Jacobs, S. S. and R. F.Weiss, eds. Ocean Ice Atmos.: Interactions Antarct. Cont. Margin, Washington, DC, American Geophysical Union, 341369. (Antarctic Research Series 75.)
Rosier, S, Gudmundsson, G and Green, J (2014) Insights into ice stream dynamics through modeling their response to tidal forcing. Cryosphere, 8(5), 17631775
Rosier, SH and Gudmundsson, GH (2016) Tidal controls on the flow of ice streams. Geophys. Res. Lett., 43(9), 44334440
Rosier, SH, Gudmundsson, GH and Green, JM (2015) Temporal variations in the flow of a large Antarctic ice stream controlled by tidally induced changes in the subglacial water system. Cryosphere, 9(4), 16491661
Schmeltz, M, Rignot, E and MacAyeal, DR (2001) Ephemeral grounding as a signal of ice-shelf change. J. Glaciol., 47(156), 7177
Thomas, RH (2007) Tide-induced perturbations of glacier velocities. Glob. Planet. Change, 59(1), 217224
Thompson, J, Simons, M and Tsai, VC (2014) Modeling the elastic transmission of tidal stresses to great distances inland in channelized ice streams. Cryosphere, 8(6), 20072029
Tsai, VC and Gudmundsson, GH (2015) An improved model for tidally modulated grounding-line migration. J. Glaciol., 61(226), 216222
Tsai, VC, Rice, JR and Fahnestock, M (2008) Possible mechanisms for glacial earthquakes. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 113(F3), F03014
Walker, RT, Parizek, BR, Alley, RB, Brunt, KM and Anandakrishnan, S (2014) Ice-shelf flexure and tidal forcing of Bindschadler Ice Stream, West Antarctica. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 395, 184193
Walters, RA (1989) Small-amplitude, short-period variations in the speed of a tide-water glacier in south-central Alaska, USA. Ann. Glaciol., 12, 187191
Wiens, DA, Anandakrishnan, S, Winberry, JP and King, MA (2008) Simultaneous teleseismic and geodetic observations of the stick–slip motion of an Antarctic ice stream. Nature, 453(7196), 770774
Williams, CR, Hindmarsh, RC and Arthern, RJ (2012) Frequency response of ice streams. Proc. R. Soc. A, 468(2147), 32853310
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Annals of Glaciology
  • ISSN: 0260-3055
  • EISSN: 1727-5644
  • URL: /core/journals/annals-of-glaciology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed