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Marine ice sheet dynamics: the impacts of ice-shelf buttressing

  • Samuel S. Pegler (a1)

Marine ice sheets are continent-scale glacial masses that lie partially submerged in the ocean, as applies to significant regions of Antarctica and Greenland. Such ice sheets have the potential to destabilise under a buoyancy-driven instability mechanism, with considerable implications for future sea level. This paper and its companion present a theoretical analysis of marine ice sheet dynamics under the effect of a potentially dominant control of the buttressing force generated by lateral stresses on the downstream floating component of the ice sheet (the ice shelf). The analysis reveals critical conditions under which ice-shelf buttressing suppresses the buoyancy-driven collapse of an ice sheet and elucidates the implications of lateral stresses on grounding-line control and overall ice-sheet structure. Integrations of a suitably simplified quasi-two-dimensional model are conducted, yielding analytical results that provide a quick assessment of steady-state balances for a given ice-sheet configuration. An analytical balance equation describing the spectrum of marine ice sheet flow regimes spanning zero to strong ice-shelf buttressing is developed. It is determined that the dynamics across this spectrum exhibits markedly different flow regimes and structural characteristics. For sufficient buttressing, the grounding line occurs near to where a lateral-drag controlled section of the ice shelf meets the bedrock, implying an independent control of the grounding line by the ice shelf. The role of basal stresses is relegated to controlling only the thickness of the ice sheet upstream of the grounding line, with no significant control of the grounding line itself. It is further demonstrated that lateral stresses are responsible for inducing additional secondary contacts between the ice shelf and the bedrock downstream of the grounding line, resulting in a rich variety of additional steady states. These inducements generate a further stabilising mechanism that can fully suppress grounding-line retreat and eliminate otherwise irreparable hysteresis effects. The results provide a conceptual framework for numerical and observational interpretation of marine ice sheet dynamics, and clarifies the manner in which ice shelves can control grounding-line positions independently. It is thus indicated that a full resolution of the fine details of the flow of ice shelves and the processes controlling their erosion and disintegration is necessary for the confident forecasting of possible ice-sheet collapse over the course of the next few centuries.

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