The Ross ice streams: a tale of piracy, bingeing and questionable stability
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree LevelPostgraduate Certificate
Degree NamePostgraduate Certificate in Antarctic Studies
Ice streams are corridors of fast ice flow and their potential to discharge large quantities of ice from the interior into an ocean basin or withhold ice supply to the major ice shelves has major implications for the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) and oceanic thermal and saline circulation. Accurate prediction of the future stability of the WAIS depends on an understanding of mechanics of their flow and the intrinsic and extrinsic environmental controls that turn it on and off. This review presents some of the main issues arising from the intensive investigation of the Ross Ice Streams, the most dynamic element within WAIS and discharging 40% of its ice into the Ross Ice Shelf. It discusses ice stream significance; distinguishes between the Ross Ice Streams and other Antarctic ice streams; presents contemporary knowledge of ice stream morphology and dynamics, factors controlling ice streaming and ice stream velocities, spatial and temporal variations in ice stream behaviour and mechanisms of ice stream flow. Finally, it looks at the implications of recent mass balance measurements and recent work indicating a flow regime between those of the ice streams and the interior ice sheet. The impression gained is of a continually evolving body of research characterised by an accumulation of knowledge but lack of consensus. The literature is riddled with contention, contradictory results, areas where knowledge remains sketchy, and conjecture. Undoubtedly advances in remote sensing technology will advance understanding, but more information is required on the variability in sedimentary properties over the bed of an ice stream: investigation of Palaeo-ice streams could provide a complementary and more accessible source of such information. Which theories one favours amongst the tales of ice stream piracy, bingeing and instability appear to be a matter of which research camp one resides in. Clearly this story will run and run.
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