Formation of Ice Eddies in Mountain Valleys of East Antarctica

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Colin R Meyer, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, United States, Timothy T Creyts, Columbia University-LDEO, Palisades, NY, United States and James R Rice, Harvard Univ, Cambridge, MA, United States
Observations show complex structures deep in ice sheets. Folds and accretion ice have been reported for both Greenland and Antarctica. Mismatched stratigraphy in the nearby GRIP and GISP2 cores in Greenland as well as overturning in the NEEM ice core suggest variable behavior within the ice sheet. Furthermore, ice penetrating radar data taken across both ice sheets shows folding at scales up to half the ice thickness. Because individual strata can be traced through the folds, it is clear that ice flow dynamics play an important role. Here we consider the possible formation of recirculation eddies in subglacial mountain valleys. Modeling the ice as a creeping homogeneous power-law shear-thinning viscous fluid, recirculation eddies are shown to form in valleys when the angle of the wall is steep enough that fluid inside the valley cannot return to the main flow. This is analogous to Moffatt eddies for a Newtonian viscous fluid. Using a no-slip boundary condition at the valley wall, ice can recirculate in these valleys indefinitely. We examine eddies in the basal ice using theory and simulations based on topography of the Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains in central East Antarctica. The Gamburtsevs are a large mountain range (~750km×250km) with steep relief typical of an alpine glacier system. Analytic results point to a necessary critical angle, and for a power-law shear-thinning fluid such as ice, these eddies occur at lower angles than in a Newtonian viscous fluid. We further develop metrics for determining valleys that are likely to contain eddies based on flow velocity and the total relief of the valley. Our simulations show that in some valleys eddies of order one hundred meters form. We then compare our simulations to radar observations to show potential for near-bed stratigraphic disturbances.