In the first few seasons of the Antarctic Siple Coast project, the University of Wisconsin has concentrated on radar and seismic studies. Highlights of the results to date include the delineation of ice streams A, B, and C and the ridges in between, determination of the surface elevations over the area, discovery of a much more advanced grounding line than previously recognized and recognition of a broad, flat, barely grounded “ice plain” just inside the grounding line. Complex zones between and adjoining some of the ice streams, characterized by an interspersal of undisturbed ice and crevassed patches, give the impression of being transformed from sheet flow into stream flow in a process of ice stream expansion. An indicated negative mass balance for ice stream B could be the result of this “activation” process. Ice stream C, currently stagnant, exhibits terraces and reversals of surface slope, associated with zones of strong, steady basal radar reflections. These features suggest that subglacial water has been trapped by reversals in the hydraulic pressure gradient.
Low seismic P-wave and S-wave velocities in a meters-thick layer immediately below the ice strongly indicate a saturated sediment of such high porosity (~40%) and low effective (differential) pressure (~50 kPa, or 0.5% of the glaciostatic pressure) that it must be too weak not to be deforming. We presume this deforming layer to be a dilated till. Its base exhibits ridges and troughs parallel to the flow direction that resemble glacial megaflutes. We believe that at our site on the upper part of ice stream B the ice stream moves principally by deforming its bed. Analysis of seismographic recordings of micro-earthquakes that occur at the glacier bed shows that the micro-earthquakes are both small in energy and infrequent. This implies that virtually none of the energy of ice stream motion is dissipated by brittle fracture at the bed. If our models are correct, the subgiacial deforming till becomes increasingly soft down-glacier, and/or the ice becomes decoupled from the till by intervening water, until on the “ice plain” basal drag is less important than longitudinal stresses in the dynamic balance. Our models also imply that the “ice plains” rest on “till deltas” that have been formed by the deposition of till carried along beneath the ice streams, and that the till deltas, and the grounding lines that bound them, are currently advancing in front of the active ice streams.