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Rock glacier surface motion in Beacon Valley, Antarctica, from synthetic-aperture radar interferometry


We present radar interferograms of rock glaciers in the Beacon Valley sector of the McMurdo Dry Valleys, in East Antarctica, as part of a comprehensive study of surface processes in the area. Due to the relative absence of net precipitation (snow) in this region and the stability of the surface, the rock glaciers maintain excellent coherence of the radar returns over several years. As a result, we obtain a spatially continuous surface velocity field with a precision of fractions of a millimeter per year. On distinct rock glaciers entering Beacon Valley, we find coherent velocity patterns, with peak velocities approaching 40 mm per year. The ice supply from these rock glaciers nourishes the central portion of Beacon Valley, where velocities are found to be vanishingly small, and partly compensates for mass losses induced by sublimation. This analysis is consistent with the tantalizing notion that Beacon Valley ice is the oldest on Earth.

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