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Surface structure and stability of the Larsen C ice shelf, Antarctic Peninsula

  • N.F. Glasser (a1), B. Kulessa (a2), A. Luckman (a2), D. Jansen (a2), E.C. King (a3), P.R. Sammonds (a4), T.A. Scambos (a5) and K.C. Jezek (a6)...

Abstract

A structural glaciological description and analysis of surface morphological features of the Larsen C ice shelf, Antarctic Peninsula, is derived from satellite images spanning the period 1963–2007. The data are evaluated in two time ranges: a comparison of a 1963 satellite image photomosaic with a modern digital mosaic compiled using 2003/04 austral summer data; and an image series since 2003 showing recent evolution of the shelf. We map the ice-shelf edge, rift swarms, crevasses and crevasse traces, and linear longitudinal structures (called ‘flow stripes’ or ‘streak lines’). The latter are observed to be continuous over distances of up to 200 km from the grounding line to the ice-shelf edge, with little evidence of changes in pattern over that distance. Integrated velocity measurements along a flowline indicate that the shelf has been stable for ∼560 years in the mid-shelf area. Linear longitudinal features may be grouped into 12 units, each related to one or a small group of outlet feeder glaciers to the shelf. We observe that the boundaries between these flow units often mark rift terminations. The boundary zones originate upstream at capes, islands or other suture areas between outlet glaciers. In agreement with previous work, our findings imply that rift terminations within such suture zones indicate that they contain anomalously soft ice. We thus suggest that suture zones within the Larsen C ice shelf, and perhaps within ice shelves more generally, may act to stabilize them by reducing regional stress intensities and thus rates of rift lengthening.

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References

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