Articles | Volume 10, issue 5
Research article
05 Sep 2016
Research article |  | 05 Sep 2016

Sliding of temperate basal ice on a rough, hard bed: creep mechanisms, pressure melting, and implications for ice streaming

Maarten Krabbendam

Abstract. Basal ice motion is crucial to ice dynamics of ice sheets. The classic Weertman model for basal sliding over bedrock obstacles proposes that sliding velocity is controlled by pressure melting and/or ductile flow, whichever is the fastest; it further assumes that pressure melting is limited by heat flow through the obstacle and ductile flow is controlled by standard power-law creep. These last two assumptions, however, are not applicable if a substantial basal layer of temperate (T ∼ Tmelt) ice is present. In that case, frictional melting can produce excess basal meltwater and efficient water flow, leading to near-thermal equilibrium. High-temperature ice creep experiments have shown a sharp weakening of a factor 5–10 close to Tmelt, suggesting standard power-law creep does not operate due to a switch to melt-assisted creep with a possible component of grain boundary melting. Pressure melting is controlled by meltwater production, heat advection by flowing meltwater to the next obstacle and heat conduction through ice/rock over half the obstacle height. No heat flow through the obstacle is required. Ice streaming over a rough, hard bed, as possibly in the Northeast Greenland Ice Stream, may be explained by enhanced basal motion in a thick temperate ice layer.

Short summary
The way that ice moves over rough ground at the base of an ice sheet is important to understand and predict the behaviour of ice sheets. Here, I argue that if basal ice is at the melting temperature, as is locally the case below the Greenland Ice Sheet, this basal motion is easier and faster than hitherto thought. A thick (tens of metres) layer of ice at the melting temperature may better explain some ice streams and needs to be taken into account when modelling future ice sheet behaviour.