Seasonal Variation in Basal Shear Stress Beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet
Abstract:Over the last decade, it has been well established that in the ablation zone of the Greenland Ice Sheet, surface melt water makes its way to the bed and seasonally modulates ice-flow speed. With a conventional sliding law, the basal shear stress is proportional to the nonlinear product of the sliding speed and the effective pressure (difference between ice overburden and water pressure). Thus, when seasonal surface melting raises subglacial water pressure, it lowers the effective pressure, requiring additional sliding to restore the basal shear stress to maintain an overall force balance. This variation need not be uniform, however, and the basal hydrological system may produce variability at different spatial scales. To examine variability at scales of a few ice thicknesses, we use control-method inverse techniques to determine the basal shear stress using a shallow-shelf, ice-flow model constrained by speckle-tracked velocities measured over 11 and 22-day intervals.
We begin by determining a reference basal shear stress estimated for a typical winter velocity field (typically over a 30-by-50 km region). We then determine the corresponding estimates for the region during periods of enhanced summer flow. In general, we find that relative to the winter data, summer basal shear stress tends to increase in areas of steep surface slope (high driving stress) and decrease, despite elevated speeds, in low slope regions, which often correspond to the basins where supraglacial lakes form. Computing the ratio of summer to winter effective pressure indicates little seasonal change in effective pressure for areas of high basal shear stress and a summer decrease in low-slope regions. This pattern is consistent with surface and bed slopes that drive water away from areas of high slopes and stress concentration (e.g., where ice flows over bedrock bumps) toward weak, low-slope regions of the bed. The net result is that, during the summer delivery of water to the bed, basal shear stresses are re-distributed from weaker to stronger areas of the bed.