Evolving basal slip under glaciers and ice streams

Anders Damsgaard, Jenny Suckale, Liran Goren

Research output: Working paper/PreprintPreprint


Many fast-flowing glaciers and ice streams move over beds consisting of reworked sediments and erosional products, commonly referred to as till. The complex interplay between ice, meltwater, and till at the subglacial bed connects several fundamental problems in glaciology including the debate about rapid mass loss from the ice sheets, the formation and evolution of subglacial landforms, and the storage and transport of subglacial water. In-situ measurements have probed the subglacial bed, but provide surprisingly variable and seemingly inconsistent evidence of the depth where deformation occurs, even at a given field site. These observations suggest that subglacial beds are inherently dynamic. The goal of this paper is to advance our understanding of the physical processes that contribute to the dynamics of subglacial beds as reflected in existing observations of basal deformation. We build on recent advances in modeling dense, granular flows to derive a new numerical model for water-saturated till. Our model demonstrates that changes in the force balance or temporal variations in water pressure can shift slip away from the ice-bed interface and far into the bed, causing episodes of significantly enhanced till transport because the entire till layer above the deep slip interface becomes mobilized. We compare our model results against observations of basal deformation from both mountain glacier and ice-stream settings in the past and present. We also present an analytical solution to assess the variability of till transport for different glacial settings and hydraulic properties.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
StatePublished - 6 Feb 2020


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