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Title: Migration of the Shear Margins at Thwaites Glacier: Dependence on Basal Conditions and Testability Against Field Data

Projections of global sea level depend sensitively on whether Thwaites Glacier, Antarctica, will continue to lose ice rapidly. Prior studies have focused primarily on understanding the evolution of ice velocity and whether the reverse‐sloping bed at Thwaites Glacier could drive irreversible retreat. However, the overall ice flux to the ocean and the possibility of irreversible retreat depend not only on the ice speed but also on the width of the main ice trunk. Here, we complement prior work by focusing specifically on understanding whether the lateral boundaries of the main ice trunk, termed shear margins, might migrate over time. We hypothesize that the shear margins at Thwaites Glacier will migrate on a decadal timescale in response to continued ice thinning and surface steepening. We test this hypothesis by developing a depth‐averaged, thermomechanical free‐boundary model that captures the complex topography underneath the glacier and solves for both the ice velocity and for the position of the shear margins. We find that both shear margins are prone to migration in response to ice thinning with basal strength and surface slope steepening determining their relative motion. We construct four end‐member cases of basal strength that represent different physical properties governing friction at the glacier bed and present two cases of ice thinning to contrast the effects of surface steepening and ice thinning. We test our model by hindcasting historic data and discuss how data from ongoing field campaigns could further be used to test our model.

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Award ID(s):
1739027 1744758
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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