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Fracture field for large-scale ice dynamics

  • Torsten Albrecht (a1) (a2) and Anders Levermann (a1) (a2)

Recent observations and modeling studies emphasize the crucial role of fracture mechanics for the stability of ice shelves and thereby the evolution of ice sheets. Here we introduce a macroscopic fracture-density field into a prognostic continuum ice-flow model and compute its evolution incorporating the initiation and growth of fractures as well as their advection with two dimensional ice flow. To a first approximation, fracture growth is assumed to depend on the spreading rate only, while fracture initiation is defined in terms of principal stresses. The inferred fracture-density fields compare well with observed elongate surface structures. Since crevasses and other deep-reaching fracture structures have been shown to influence the overall ice-shelf dynamics, we propose the fracture- density field introduced here be used as a measure for ice softening and decoupling of the ice flow in fracture-weakened zones. This may yield more accurate and realistic velocity patterns in prognostic simulations. Additionally, the memory of past fracture events links the calving front to the upstream dynamics. Thus the fracture-density field proposed here may be employed in fracture-based calving parameterizations. The aim of this study is to introduce the field and investigate which of the observed surface structures can be reproduced by the simplest physically motivated fracture source terms.

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