Scaling of instability timescales of Antarctic outlet glaciers based on one-dimensional similitude analysis

Levermann, Anders; Feldmann, Johannes

Recent observations and ice-dynamic modeling suggest that a marine ice-sheet instability (MISI) might have been triggered in West Antarctica. The corresponding outlet glaciers, Pine Island Glacier (PIG) and Thwaites Glacier (TG), showed significant retreat during at least the last 2 decades. While other regions in Antarctica have the topographic predisposition for the same kind of instability, it is so far unclear how fast these instabilities would unfold if they were initiated. Here we employ the concept of similitude to estimate the characteristic timescales of several potentially MISI-prone outlet glaciers around the Antarctic coast. Our results suggest that TG and PIG have the fastest response time of all investigated outlets, with TG responding about 1.25 to 2 times as fast as PIG, while other outlets around Antarctica would be up to 10 times slower if destabilized. These results have to be viewed in light of the strong assumptions made in their derivation. These include the absence of ice-shelf buttressing, the one-dimensionality of the approach and the uncertainty of the available data. We argue however that the current topographic situation and the physical conditions of the MISI-prone outlet glaciers carry the information of their respective timescale and that this information can be partially extracted through a similitude analysis.

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Levermann, Anders / Feldmann, Johannes: Scaling of instability timescales of Antarctic outlet glaciers based on one-dimensional similitude analysis. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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Rechteinhaber: Anders Levermann

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