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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2019-232
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2019-232
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 22 Oct 2019

Submitted as: research article | 22 Oct 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal The Cryosphere (TC).

Ice shelf rift propagation: stability, three dimensional effects, and the role of marginal weakening

Bradley Paul Lipovsky Bradley Paul Lipovsky
  • Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, USA

Abstract. Understanding the processes that govern ice shelf extent are of fundamental importance to improved estimates of future sea level rise. In present-day Antarctica, ice shelf extent is most commonly determined by the propagation of through-cutting fractures called ice shelf rifts. Here, I present the first three-dimensional analysis of ice shelf rift propagation. I present a linear elastic fracture mechanical (LEFM) description of rift propagation. The model predicts that rifts may be stabilized when buoyant flexure results in contact at the tops of the near-tip rift walls. This stabilizing tendency may be overcome, however, by processes that act in the ice shelf margins. In particular, both marginal weakening and the advection of rifts into an ice tongue are shown to be processes that may trigger rift propagation. Marginal shear stress is shown to be the determining factor that governs these types of rift instability. I furthermore show that rift stability is closely related to the transition from uniaxial to biaxial extension known as the compressive arch. Although the partial contact of rift walls is fundamentally a three-dimensional process, I demonstrate that it may be parameterized within more numerically efficient two-dimensional calculations. This study provides a step towards a description of calving physics that is based in fracture mechanics.

Bradley Paul Lipovsky
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Bradley Paul Lipovsky
Bradley Paul Lipovsky
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Latest update: 21 Nov 2019
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Short summary
Ice shelves promote the stability of marine ice sheets and therefore reduce the ice sheet contribution to sea level rise. Ice shelf rifts are through-cutting fractures that jeopardize this stabilizing tendency. Here, I carry out the first-ever 3D modeling of ice shelf rifts. I find that the overall ice shelf geometry -- particularly the ice shelf margins-- alters rift stability. This work paves the way to a more realistic depiction of rifting in ice sheet models.
Ice shelves promote the stability of marine ice sheets and therefore reduce the ice sheet...
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