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Basal crevasses on the Larsen C Ice Shelf, Antarctica: Implications for meltwater ponding and hydrofracture

  • Author(s): McGrath, D
  • Steffen, K
  • Rajaram, H
  • Scambos, T
  • Abdalati, W
  • Rignot, E
  • et al.

A key mechanism for the rapid collapse of both the Larsen A and B Ice Shelves was meltwater-driven crevasse propagation. Basal crevasses, large-scale structural features within ice shelves, may have contributed to this mechanism in three important ways: i) the shelf surface deforms due to modified buoyancy and gravitational forces above the basal crevasse, creating >10 m deep compressional surface depressions where meltwater can collect, ii) bending stresses from the modified shape drive surface crevassing, with crevasses reaching 40 m in width, on the flanks of the basal-crevasse-induced trough and iii) the ice thickness is substantially reduced, thereby minimizing the propagation distance before a full-thickness rift is created. We examine a basal crevasse (4.5 km in length, ∼230 m in height), and the corresponding surface features, in the Cabinet Inlet sector of the Larsen C Ice Shelf using a combination of high-resolution (0.5 m) satellite imagery, kinematic GPS and in situ ground penetrating radar. We discuss how basal crevasses may have contributed to the breakup of the Larsen B Ice Shelf by directly controlling the location of meltwater ponding and highlight the presence of similar features on the Amery and Getz Ice Shelves with high-resolution imagery. © 2012. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.

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