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Characteristics of the deforming bed: till properties on the deglaciated Antarctic continental shelf


Contemporary ice stream flow is directly linked to conditions at the ice/bed interface, yet this environment is logistically difficult to access. Instead, we investigate subglacial processes important for ice stream flow by studying tills on the deglaciated Antarctic continental shelf. We test currently-accepted hypotheses surrounding subglacial processes and till properties with a Ross Sea dataset. Till shear strengths indicate a continuum of simultaneous processes acting at the bed, rather than discrete ‘deformation’ and ‘lodgement’ end-members. We identify a threshold water content representing saturated pore spaces, leading to basal sliding and meltwater channelization. Based on observations of till properties relative to glacial landforms, we challenge the assumption that low shear strength is linked to intense deformation. Spatial variability in landform morphology reflects variability in deforming processes at the sub-ice stream scale and suggests a maximum deforming bed thickness of 2 m at the grounding line. Regional till properties generally correlate with seafloor geology and deglacial history; the western Ross Sea is characterized by higher and more variable shear strengths and water contents, while lower-shear strength till was preserved in the Eastern Basin. These observations inform till interpretation and provide context for deforming beds beneath the modern ice sheet and on glaciated continental shelves.

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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.
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Correspondence: Anna Ruth W. Halberstadt <>
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