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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Abstract Fast ice flow on the Antarctic continent constitutes much of the mass loss from the ice sheet. However, geophysical methods struggle to constrain ice flow history at depth, or separate the signatures of topography, ice dynamics and basal conditions on layer structure. We develop and demonstrate a methodology to compare layer signatures in multiple airborne radar transects in order to characterize ice flow at depth, or improve coverage of existing radar surveys. We apply this technique to generate synthetic, along-flow radargrams and compare different deformation regimes to observed radargram structure. Specifically, we investigate flow around the central sticky spot of Whillans Ice Stream, West Antarctica. Our study suggests that present-day velocity flowlines are insufficient to characterize flow at depth as expressed in layer geometry, and streaklines provide a better characterization of flow around a basal sticky spot. For Whillans Ice Stream, this suggests that ice flow wraps around the central sticky spot, supported by idealized flow simulations. While tracking isochrone translation and rotation across survey lines is complex, we demonstrate that our approach to combine radargram interpretation and modeling can reveal critical details of past ice flow.more » « less
Abstract Here we use polarimetric measurements from an Autonomous phase-sensitive Radio-Echo Sounder (ApRES) to investigate ice fabric within Whillans Ice Stream, West Antarctica. The survey traverse is bounded at one end by the suture zone with the Mercer Ice Stream and at the other end by a basal ‘sticky spot’. Our data analysis employs a phase-based polarimetric coherence method to estimate horizontal ice fabric properties: the fabric orientation and the magnitude of the horizontal fabric asymmetry. We infer an azimuthal rotation in the prevailing horizontal c -axis between the near-surface ( z ≈ 10–50 m) and deeper ice ( z ≈ 170–360 m), with the near-surface orientated closer to perpendicular to flow and deeper ice closer to parallel. In the near-surface, the fabric asymmetry increases toward the center of Whillans Ice Stream which is consistent with the surface compression direction. By contrast, the fabric orientation in deeper ice is not aligned with the surface compression direction but is consistent with englacial ice reacting to longitudinal compression associated with basal resistance from the nearby sticky spot.more » « less