Changes in driving and resistive stresses play an essential role in governing the buoyancy forces that are important controls on the speed and irreversibility of tidewater glacier retreats. We describe changes in geometry, velocity, and strain rate and present a top-down force balance analysis performed over the lower reach of Columbia Glacier. Our analysis uses new measurements and estimates of basal topography and photogrammetric surface velocity measurements made between 1977 and 2001, while assuming depth-independent strain. Sensitivity tests show that the method is robust and insensitive to small changes in the calculation parameters. Spatial distributions of ice speed show little correspondence with driving stress. Instead, spatial patterns of ice speed exhibit a nonlinear correspondence with basal drag. Primary resistance to flow comes from basal drag, but lateral drag becomes increasingly more important throughout the retreat, which may account for observed increases in speed. Maximum basal drag is always located in a prominent constriction located ???12 km upstream from the preretreat terminus. Once the terminus retreated into deep water off the terminal moraine marking the modern maximum extent, the upstream location of this maximum basal drag helped to promote thinning and decrease effective pressure in the lower region by limiting replenishing ice flow from upstream. An increase in both ice velocity and calving resulted, initiating what appears to be an irreversible retreat. Copyright 2005 by the American Geophysical Union.
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Evolving force balance at Columbia Glacier, Alaska, during its rapid retreat