Stick-slip on ice streams: the effects of viscoelasticity

6 December 2013
Daniel Goldberg
Stick-slip behavior is a distinguishing characteristic of the flow of Whillans Ice Stream. Distinct from stick-slip on northern hemisphere glaciers, which is generally attributed to supraglacial melt, the behavior is thought be be controlled by fast processes at the bed and by tidally-induced stress. Modelling approaches to studying this phenomenon typically consider ice to be an elastically-deforming solid (e.g. Winberry et al, 2008; Sergienko et al, 2009). However, there remains a question of whether irreversible, i.e. viscous, deformation is important to the stick-slip process; and furthermore whether the details of stick-slip oscillations are important to ice stream evolution on longer time scales (years to decades). To address this question I use two viscoelastic models of varying complexity. The first is a modification to the simple block-and-slider models traditionally used to examine earthquake processes on a very simplistic fashion. Results show that the role of viscosity in stick-slip depends on the dominant stress balance. These results are then considered in the context of a continuum description of a viscoelastic ice stream with a rate-weakening base capable of exhibiting stick-slip behavior. With the continuum model we examine the spatial and temporal aspects of stick-slip, their dependence on viscous effects, and how this behavior impacts the mean flow. Different models for the evolution of basal shear stress are examined in the experiments, with qualitatively similar results. A surprising outcome is that tidal effects, while greatly affecting the spectrum of the stick-slip cycle, may have relatively little effect on the mean flow.
  • Mathematical Geoscience Seminar