The flow and fracture of Antarctic Ice Shelves

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Millstein, Joanna D.
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This thesis explores the deformation of glacier ice, with an aim of deriving insights into its flow and fracture through satellite remote sensing methods. Glaciers deform through the driving force of their own weight and display dramatic responses to both external forcing, such as changes in climate, and internal forcing like variations in stress. Here, we focus on Antarctic ice shelves, the fast-flowing extensions of the ice sheet that impart stabilizing resistive stresses onto the grounded area. Processes contributing to dynamic change through melting, calving, the flow and fracture ice, can be explored and quantified with expirical relationships derived from mechanical properties. To understand the stability and future projections of glaciers and ice sheets in a changing climate, it is critical that we quantify and calibrate these processes. In Chapter 2, we leverage modern satellite remote sensing products to gain new insights into the flow of glacier ice. We validate and calibrate the constitutive relation for glacier ice across Antarctic ice shelves using a simple relationship between ice thickness and surface strain rate data. We find that the constitutive relation should employ an exponent n = 4, in contrast to the commonly used n = 3. This finding implies that ice shelves are more sensitive to changes in the stress state than typically assumed. Next, in Chapter 3 we derive a spatiotemporally dense dataset of surface strain rate fields across the Brunt Ice Shelf, the site of active full-thickness fractures, known as rifts. This dataset provides a mechanical framework with which we can analyze dynamic change, allowing us to quantify surface deformation with radar remote sensing. Lastly, Chapter 4 presents a fatigue-crack growth model for active rifts. This empirical framework sets bounds on rift propagation rates over periods of weeks and months and, in doing so, presents a simple parameterization of rift growth rates that can be implemented using observational data. This work provides a promising method to resolve fracture evolution over the period of weeks to years. Ultimately, this thesis uses observational data to validate theoretical models of glacier change, advancing our grasp on the dynamics of Antarctic ice shelves.
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution February 2024.
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Millstein, J. D. (2024). The flow and fracture of Antarctic Ice Shelves [Doctoral thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution]. Woods Hole Open Access Server.
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