Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. 24/7 Space News .

Subscribe free to our newsletters via your

Satellites observe 'traffic jams' in Antarctic Ice Stream caused by tides
by Staff Writers
Pasadena CA (SPX) Dec 22, 2016

As the tide falls, the floating Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf grounds out, slowing down the progress of the Rutford Ice Stream. When the tide rises, the ice shelf floats again, allowing the flow of the ice stream to speed up. Image courtesy B. Minchew and Caltech. For a larger version of this image please go here.

For the first time, researchers have closely observed how the ocean's tides can speed up or slow down the speed of glacial movement in Antarctica. The new data will help modelers better predict how glaciers will respond to rising sea levels.

Caltech's Brent Minchew (PhD '16) and Mark Simons, along with their collaborators and in cooperation with the Italian Space Agency (ASI), exploited four COSMO-SkyMed radar-imaging satellites on the Rutford Ice Stream in Antarctica. The satellites gathered near-continuous data for nearly nine months from a variety of angles.

The Rutford Ice Stream is a fast-moving river of ice, approximately 300 kilometers long and 25 kilometers wide, in West Antarctica. It connects glaciers in the Ellsworth Mountains to the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf, a floating chunk of ice roughly the size of California. Driven by its own weight, the stream of solid ice flows downhill toward the sea at a rate of about one meter per day, though that speed varies by as much as 20 percent with the tides.

The variability is driven by the ice's interactions with the ocean. At low tide, the floating ice sinks far enough to ground out on the sea floor like a foundering ship, causing an ice traffic jam that can be detected up to 100 kilometers upstream. When the tide rises again, the ice lifts off of the sea floor and flows freely once more.

"A rising tide lifts all ships, and it also lifts all ice," says Minchew, a PhD student at Caltech while conducting the research and now a postdoctoral researcher the British Antarctic Survey. Minchew is the lead author of a paper about the study that was published by the Journal of Geophysical Research on November 22.

The ice stream was so sensitive to the change in tides that Simons and Minchew could detect the individual influences of solar and lunar tides.

The planet's solar and lunar tides are caused by the tug of the sun and the moon, respectively, on the earth. High tide occurs simultaneously on the sides of the earth facing toward and away from the sun and the moon because their gravitational pulls create a bulge, or high tide, in the planet.

The lunar and solar tides are not perfectly in sync: the lunar tide cycles from high to low every 12-and-a-half hours, while the solar tide cycles every 12 hours. When those two cycles align perfectly, the sea experiences its strongest tides. When they are most misaligned, the sea experiences its weakest tides.

Previous efforts to explore the effect of the tide on glacial movement relied on placing a GPS device directly on the ice. This technique, however, provides information for only one point of movement.

The Caltech team instead collected pairs of images taken from the same location in space but at different times, thus showing movement not just of a single point but continuous tracking of every single square inch of the surface of the ice streams. (Ice does not move as one solid fixed mass, but rather it flows like an incredibly viscous syrup - its motion is often likened to that of cold honey.

As such, the movement of one point provides only the most basic information about the entire glacier.) Further, the variety of viewing angles provided by the constellation of satellites offered three-dimensional information about the ice's movement and revealed, for example, that the floating ice shelf moved more quickly, thus showing that the grounding effect was indeed responsible for changes in the ice's speed.

Studies on glacial movement could yield important data for scientists looking to model how glaciers will respond to the effects of climate change.

"The response of ice flow to changes in sea level and ocean temperature has a direct impact on contemporary sea-level rise," says Simons, professor of geophysics at Caltech. "Quantifying this is critical for understanding how Antarctica will evolve over the next decades and centuries as the climate warms and the marine-terminating glaciers are exposed to warmer ocean water."

With warmer water and high sea levels, glaciers will flow faster into the sea, melting more quickly once they reach the water.

Already, the study has yielded surprising information about the strength of ice and its ability to resist deforming due to glacial stress. As it turns out, ice is weaker along the margins of flowing glacial streams than previously suspected. The same technology and technique could be used to study the motion of glaciers worldwide, Minchew says.

Research report: "Tidally induced variations in vertical and horizontal motion on Rutford Ice Stream, West Antarctica, inferred from remotely sensed observations,"

Comment on this article using your Disqus, Facebook, Google or Twitter login.

Thanks for being here;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.

SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5 Billed Monthly

paypal only


Related Links
California Institute of Technology
Beyond the Ice Age

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Previous Report
Antarctic site promises to open a new window on the cosmos
Boston MA (SPX) Dec 13, 2016
Antarctica might be one of the most inhospitable regions on the planet, but it is a mecca for astronomers. Its cold, dry air enables observations that can't be done elsewhere on Earth. The South Pole has hosted telescopes for decades. Now, researchers are eyeing a new location - Dome A, which offers a unique opportunity to study the universe at little-explored terahertz radio frequencies. ... read more

Trump sits down with tech execs, including critics

Trump sits down with tech execs, including critics

NASA Tech - it's all around us

NASA Communications Network to Double Space Station Data Rates

Ultra-Cold Storage - Liquid Hydrogen may be Fuel of the Future

Technical glitch postpones NASA satellite launch

After glitch, NASA satellite launch set for Wednesday

China develops non-toxic propellant for orbiting satellites

Mars Rock-Ingredient Stew Seen as Plus for Habitability

ExoMars orbiter images Phobos

Mars One puts back planned colonisation of Red Planet

Opportunity team plot path forward to the 'Gully'

Chinese missile giant seeks 20% of a satellite market

China-made satellites in high demand

Space exploration plans unveiled

China launches 4th data relay satellite

UAE launches national space policy

Air New Zealand signs contract for Inmarsat's GX Aviation

European ministers ready ESA for a United Space in Europe in the era of Space 4.0

Nordic entrepreneurial spirit boosted by space

Discovery to inspire more radiation-resistant metals

Rice, Baylor team sets new mark for 'deep learning'

Method enables machine learning from unwieldy data sets

Microseeding: A new way to overcome hemihedral twinning?

Scientists examine bacterium found 1,000 feet underground

Rings around young star suggest planet formation in progress

ALMA finds compelling evidence for pair of infant planets around young star

Who needs a body? Not these larvae, which are basically swimming heads

Juno Mission Prepares for December 11 Jupiter Flyby

Research Offers Clues About the Timing of Jupiter's Formation

New Perspective on How Pluto's "Icy Heart" Came to Be

New analysis adds to support for a subsurface ocean on Pluto

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2017 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement