Recent airborne radar sounding has made it possible to map accurately three of the West Antarctic ice streams that flow into Ross Ice Shelf. In previous work we have shown that ice streams A and Β have negative mass balances, whereas inactive Ice Stream C has a strongly positive balance. In this paper we examine in more detail the balance of ice streams A and Β by constructing several gates across them where velocities and ice thicknesses have been measured. We then examine the net fluxes in blocks of the ice streams delimited by successive pairs of gates.
Ice Stream A as a whole is apparently discharging more ice than is being accumulated in the catchment area, and currently thinning at the rate of 0.08 ± 0.03 m a−1. The situation on Ice Stream Β is more complex. We have calculated separately the fluxes from tributary ice streams Bl and B2, and examined their individual fluxes within Ice Stream Β by tracing the suture zone between them down-stream of their confluence. The flow band that is the farthest up-stream (girdle), encompassing both Ice Stream Bl and Ice Stream B2, shows a strongly negative net flux that we attribute to lateral and headward expansion of the ice streams within the band. Such expansion can occur by lateral movement of an ice-stream boundary, by temporally accelerating ice flow at the head of the ice stream, or by activation of formerly slowly moving “island” or “peninsula” ice.
The imbalance in this flow band, 8 ± 2 km3 a−1 (equivalent mean rate of change in ice thickness,
is nearly half of the total excess outflow for the Ice Stream Β system (20 ± 4 km3 a−1),
— the remainder is mostly the difference between flow through the uppermost gate and mass input to the catchment area .
for the whole of Ice Stream Β is plotted against the distance along the entire Ice Stream B, the overall pattern appears to be of mild thinning in the catchment, intense thinning in the girdle, and thickening in the main body of the ice stream, which decreases with distance from the girdle. This global behavior is suggestive of a major transient response, resulting from either a change in the internal dynamics or an internal adjustment to a change in the external forcings. We argue that there are a number of conditions which could lead to this type of response pattern. One possibility is a surge. Although the distribution of the changes in thickness is one characteristic of a surge, we caution that this alone is not sufficient to classify the behavior as a surge. Several other possibilities that support a picture of Ice Stream Β as a system in the process of dynamic change and in unsteady state are discussed.
At present, Ice Stream C and its catchment area are thickening over their entire area
The present surface elevation does not suggest that Ice Stream Β has captured part of Ice Stream C. Moreover, the shut-down of Ice Stream C and the large mass imbalance of Ice Stream Β are not related.