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  1. Basal channels, which are troughs carved into the undersides of ice shelves by buoyant plumes of water, are modulators of ice-shelf basal melt and structural stability. In this study, we track the evolution of 12 large basal channels beneath ice shelves of the Amundsen and Bellingshausen seas region in West Antarctica using the Landsat record since its start in the 1970s through 2020. We observe examples of channel growth, interactions with ice-shelf features, and systematic changes in sinuosity that give insight into the life cycles of basal channels. We use the last two decades of the record, combined with contemporary ice-flow velocity datasets, to separate channel-path evolution into components related to advection by ice flow and those controlled by other forcings, such as ocean melt or surface accumulation. Our results show that ice-flow-independent lateral channel migration is overwhelmingly to the left when viewed down-flow, suggesting that it is dominated by Coriolis-influenced ocean melt. By applying a model of channel-path evolution dominantly controlled by ice flow and ocean melt, we show that the majority of channels surveyed exhibit non-steady behavior that serves as a novel proxy for increased ocean forcing in West Antarctica starting at least in the early 1970s. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 19, 2025
  2. Abstract

    Thwaites Glacier (TG) plays an important role in future sea-level rise (SLR) contribution from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Recent observations show that TG is losing mass, and its grounding zone is retreating. Previous modeling has produced a wide range of results concerning whether, when, and how rapidly further retreat will occur under continued warming. These differences arise at least in part from ill-constrained processes, including friction from the bed, and future atmosphere and ocean forcing affecting ice-shelf and grounding-zone buttressing. Here, we apply the Ice Sheet and Sea-level System Model (ISSM) with a range of specifications of basal sliding behavior in response to varying ocean forcing. We find that basin-wide bed character strongly affects TG's response to sub-shelf melt by modulating how changes in driving stress are balanced by the bed as the glacier responds to external forcing. Resulting differences in dynamic thinning patterns alter modeled grounding-line retreat across Thwaites' catchment, affecting both modeled rates and magnitudes of SLR contribution from this critical sector of the ice sheet. Bed character introduces large uncertainties in projections of TG under equal external forcing, pointing to this as a crucial constraint needed in predictive models of West Antarctica.

     
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2024
  3. Abstract Basal channels, which form where buoyant plumes of ocean water and meltwater carve troughs upwards into ice-shelf bases, are widespread on Antarctic ice shelves. The formation of these features modulates ice-shelf basal melt by influencing the flow of buoyant plumes, and influences structural stability through concentration of strain and interactions with fractures. Because of these effects, and because basal channels can change rapidly, on timescales similar to those of ice-shelf evolution, constraining the impacts of basal channels on ice shelves is necessary for predicting future ice-shelf destabilization and retreat. We suggest that future research priorities should include constraining patterns and rates of basal channel change, determining mechanisms and detailed patterns of basal melt, and quantifying the influence that channel-related fractures have on ice-shelf stability. 
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  4. Abstract

    Glacier-bed characteristics that are poorly known and modeled are important in projected sea-level rise from ice-sheet changes under strong warming, especially in the Thwaites Glacier drainage of West Antarctica. Ocean warming may induce ice-shelf thinning or loss, or thinning of ice in estuarine zones, reducing backstress on grounded ice. Models indicate that, in response, more-nearly-plastic beds favor faster ice loss by causing larger flow acceleration, but more-nearly-viscous beds favor localized near-coastal thinning that could speed grounding-zone retreat into interior basins where marine-ice-sheet instability or cliff instability could develop and cause very rapid ice loss. Interpretation of available data indicates that the bed is spatially mosaicked, with both viscous and plastic regions. Flow against bedrock topography removes plastic lubricating tills, exposing bedrock that is eroded on up-glacier sides of obstacles to form moats with exposed bedrock tails extending downglacier adjacent to lee-side soft-till bedforms. Flow against topography also generates high-ice-pressure zones that prevent inflow of lubricating water over distances that scale with the obstacle size. Extending existing observations to sufficiently large regions, and developing models assimilating such data at the appropriate scale, present large, important research challenges that must be met to reliably project future forced sea-level rise.

     
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  5. null (Ed.)
  6. Abstract Marine-terminating glaciers lose mass through melting and iceberg calving, and we find that meltwater drainage systems influence calving timing at Helheim Glacier, a tidewater glacier in East Greenland. Meltwater feeds a buoyant subglacial discharge plume at the terminus of Helheim Glacier, which rises along the glacial front and surfaces through the mélange. Here, we use high-resolution satellite and time-lapse imagery to observe the surface expression of this meltwater plume and how plume timing and location compare with that of calving and supraglacial meltwater pooling from 2011 to 2019. The plume consistently appeared at the central terminus even as the glacier advanced and retreated, fed by a well-established channelized drainage system with connections to supraglacial water. All full-thickness calving episodes, both tabular and non-tabular, were separated from the surfacing plume by either time or by space. We hypothesize that variability in subglacial hydrology and basal coupling drive this inverse relationship between subglacial discharge plumes and full-thickness calving. Surfacing plumes likely indicate a low-pressure subglacial drainage system and grounded terminus, while full-thickness calving occurrence reflects a terminus at or close to flotation. Our records of plume appearance and full-thickness calving therefore represent proxies for the grounding state of Helheim Glacier through time. 
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  7. null (Ed.)
  8. Abstract Recent seismic measurements from upper Thwaites Glacier indicate that the bed-type variability is closely related to the along-flow basal topography. In high-relief subglacial highlands, stoss sides of topographic highs have a relatively higher acoustic impedance (‘hard’ bed) with lower acoustic impedance (‘soft’ till) on lee sides. This pattern is similar to observations of many deglaciated terrains. Subglacial hydraulic-potential gradient and its divergence show a tendency for water to diverge over the stoss sides and converge into the lee sides. Convergence favors a thicker or more widespread water system, which can more efficiently decouple ice from the underlying till. Under such circumstances, till deformation does occur but, fluxes are relatively small. Till carried from the lee sides onto stoss sides of downstream bumps should couple to the ice more efficiently, increasing the ability for transport by till deformation. In turn, this suggests that steady-state till transport can be achieved if the stoss-side till layer is thin or discontinuous. In addition, the large basal shear stress generated in the highlands seems too high for a bed lubricated by a continuous although thin deforming till, suggesting till discontinuity, which would allow debris-laden ice to erode bedrock on stoss sides, supplying additional till for transport. 
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