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The basal roughness of Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica

  • D.M. Rippin (a1), D.G. Vaughan (a2) and H.F.J. Corr (a2)


We assess basal roughness beneath Pine Island Glacier (PIG), West Antarctica, based on a recent airborne radio-echo sounding dataset. We identify a clear relationship between faster ice flow and decreased basal roughness in significant parts of PIG. The central portion and two of its tributaries are particularly smooth, but the majority of the tributaries feeding the main trunk are rougher. We interpret the presence of a smooth bed as being a consequence of the deposition of marine sediments following disappearance of the West Antarctic ice sheet in the Pliocene or Pleistocene, and, conversely, a lack of marine sedimentation where the bed is rough. Importantly, we also identify a patchy distribution of marine sediments, and thus a bed over which the controls on flow vary. While there is a notable correspondence between ice velocity and bed roughness, we do not assume a direct causal relationship, but find that an indirect one is likely. Where low basal roughness results in low basal resistance to flow, a lower driving stress is required to produce the flux required to achieve mass balance. This, in turn, means that the surface in that area will be lower than surrounding areas with a rougher bed, and this will tend to draw flow into the area with low bed roughness. Since our studies shows that bed roughness beneath the tributaries of the trunk varies substantially, there is a strong likelihood that these tributaries will differ in the rate at which they transmit current velocity changes on the main trunk into the interior of the glacier basin.

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