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On nonlinear strain theory for a viscoelastic material model and its implications for calving of ice shelves


In the current ice-sheet models calving of ice shelves is based on phenomenological approaches. To obtain physics-based calving criteria, a viscoelastic Maxwell model is required accounting for short-term elastic and long-term viscous deformation. On timescales of months to years between calving events, as well as on long timescales with several subsequent iceberg break-offs, deformations are no longer small and linearized strain measures cannot be used. We present a finite deformation framework of viscoelasticity and extend this model by a nonlinear Glen-type viscosity. A finite element implementation is used to compute stress and strain states in the vicinity of the ice-shelf calving front. Stress and strain maxima of small (linearized strain measure) and finite strain formulations differ by ~ 5% after 1 and by ~ 30% after 10 years, respectively. A finite deformation formulation reaches a critical stress or strain faster, thus calving rates will be higher, despite the fact that the exact critical values are not known. Nonlinear viscosity of Glen-type leads to higher stress values. The Maxwell material model formulation for finite deformations presented here can also be applied to other glaciological problems, for example, tidal forcing at grounding lines or closure of englacial and subglacial melt channels.

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      On nonlinear strain theory for a viscoelastic material model and its implications for calving of ice shelves
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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is unaltered and is properly cited. The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use or in order to create a derivative work.
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Correspondence: Julia Christmann <>
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Journal of Glaciology
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