Fracture propagation and stability of ice shelves governed by ice shelf heterogeneity

Geophysical Research Letters
By: , and 

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Abstract

Tabular iceberg calving and ice shelf retreat occurs after full‐thickness fractures, known as rifts, propagate across an ice shelf. A quickly evolving rift signals a threat to the stability of Larsen C, the Antarctic Peninsula's largest ice shelf. Here we reveal the influence of ice shelf heterogeneity on the growth of this rift, with implications that challenge existing notions of ice shelf stability. Most of the rift extension has occurred in bursts after overcoming the resistance of suture zones that bind together neighboring glacier inflows. We model the stresses in the ice shelf to determine potential rift trajectories. Calving perturbations to ice flow will likely reach the grounding line. The stability of Larsen C may hinge on a single suture zone that stabilizes numerous upstream rifts. Elevated fracture toughness of suture zones may be the most important property that allows ice shelves to modulate Antarctica's contribution to sea level rise.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Fracture propagation and stability of ice shelves governed by ice shelf heterogeneity
Series title Geophysical Research Letters
DOI 10.1002/2017GL072648
Volume 44
Issue 9
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher American Geophysical Union
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center, Alaska Science Center Water
Description 9 p.
First page 4186
Last page 4194
Country Antarctica
Other Geospatial Larsen C Ice Shelf
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