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Quantifying bed roughness beneath contemporary and palaeo-ice streams


Bed roughness is an important control on ice-stream location and dynamics. The majority of previous bed roughness studies have been based on data derived from radio-echo sounding (RES) transects across Antarctica and Greenland. However, the wide spacing of RES transects means that the links between roughness and flow are poorly constrained. Here, we use Digital Terrain Model/bathymetry data from a well-preserved palaeo-ice stream to investigate basal controls on the behaviour of contemporary ice streams. Artificial transects were set up across the Minch Palaeo-Ice Stream (NW Scotland) to mimic RES flight lines over Institute and Möller Ice Streams (Antarctica). We then explored how different data-resolution, transect orientation and spacing, and different methods, impact roughness measurements. Our results show that fast palaeo-ice flow can occur over a rough, hard bed, not just a smooth, soft bed, as previous work has suggested. Smooth areas of the bed occur over both bedrock and sediment covered regions. Similar trends in bed roughness values were found using Fast Fourier Transform analysis and standard deviation methods. Smoothing of bed roughness results can hide important details. We propose that the typical spacing of RES transects is too wide to capture different landform assemblages and that transect orientation influences bed roughness measurements in both contemporary and palaeo-ice-stream setting.

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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.
Corresponding author
Correspondence: Francesca A.M. Falcini <>
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