Understanding ice-sheet dynamics using geophysical observations and numerical ice-flow models
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Mass loss from the world’s ice sheets is one of the largest sources of uncertainty in sea-level rise projections for the 21st century. One way to improve sea-level rise projections is to better understand the processes driving past ice-sheet mass loss. This dissertation investigates past changes in ice flow for two regions: (1) Helheim and Kangerlussuaq Glaciers, two fast-flowing tidewater glaciers in Southeast Greenland, and (2) the Allan Hills Blue Ice Area, a slow-flowing blue ice area in East Antarctica. For both regions, I constrain changes in ice-sheet dynamics using geophysical observations and interpret those changes using numerical ice-flow models. At Helheim and Kangerlussuaq, I examine seasonal and interannual variations in surface velocity, elevation, and terminus position from 2001 to 2016. I show that glacier dynamics depend on the extent of floating ice near the terminus. Helheim’s grounded terminus calved small, nontabular icebergs, while Kangerlussuaq’s floating ice tongue calved large, tabular icebergs. Furthermore, terminus-driven, seasonal speedups and dynamic thinning were generally larger at Helheim than at Kangerlussuaq, likely due to its grounded rather than floating ice tongue. To interpret the observed changes at Helheim and Kangerlussuaq, I use inverse methods to investigate changes in basal conditions under the two glaciers. The basal shear stress under Helheim and Kangerlussuaq decreased or remained relatively constant during terminus-driven speedup events, suggesting that changes in the stress balance were generally supported outside of the region of fast flow. Finally, I use the inferred basal shear stresses to help constrain the form of the basal sliding law. At the Allan Hills Blue Ice Area, I combine ice-penetrating radar data, an ice-flow model, and age constraints to determine a potential site to drill a million-year-old ice core. I also show that thickness anomalies in the englacial stratigraphy suggest that glacier velocity was 30% of present-day values during the last glaciation. While the dynamics of the Allan Hills Blue Ice Area are likely unimportant for sea-level rise projections, an ice core from the region could provide insight into the past stability of the Ross Sea Sector and West Antarctic Ice Sheet.