The highly nonlinear viscosity of fast-flowing glacier ice

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Meghana Ranganathan , Brent Minchew


Glacier flow modulates sea level and is governed by the viscous deformation of ice. Multiple molecular-scale mechanisms facilitate viscous deformation, but it remains unclear how each contributes to glacier-scale deformation and how to represent them in ice-flow models. Here, we present a model of ice deformation that unifies existing estimates of the viscous parameters and provides a framework for estimating their values. We infer from observations the dominant deformation mechanisms in the Antarctic Ice Sheet, showing that, contrary to long-standing assumptions, dislocation creep, with viscous stress exponent n=4, likely dominates in all fast-flowing areas. This increase from the canonical n=3 changes the stability portrait of marine ice sheets by reducing the likelihood of unstable steady-state configurations on reverse bed slopes under given climate conditions.





ice sheets, glaciers, ice flow, rheology, Glaciology


Published: 2022-11-30 23:40

Last Updated: 2023-06-16 15:53

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CC-BY Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International

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Conflict of interest statement:

Data Availability (Reason not available):
The source code for the model presented in this study are openly available at No new data were produced for this study, and data used in this study are publicly available through their respective publications.