Dilatant till facilitates ice-stream flow in northeast Greenland

Knut Christianson, Leo E. Peters, Richard B. Alley, Sridhar Anandakrishnan, Robert W. Jacobel, Kiya L. Riverman, Atsuhiro Muto, Benjamin A. Keisling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


We present radio-echo sounding (RES), global positioning system (GPS), and active-source seismic data across the central portion of the Northeast Greenland Ice Stream (NEGIS). NEGIS widens downglacier from a small region of high geothermal flux near the ice divide. Our data reveal high-porosity (40+%) water-saturated till lubricating the ice stream. Ice accelerates and thins as it flows into NEGIS, producing marginal troughs in surface topography. These troughs create steep gradients in the subglacial hydropotential that generate parallel "sticky" and "slippery" bands beneath the shear margins. The low-porosity "sticky" sediment bands limit ice entrainment across the margins and thus restrict further widening, producing the long, narrow, and relatively stable ice stream. However, the observed relations among surface elevation, basal water routing, broad sedimentary drape, and till dilatancy suggest that rapid shifts in ice dynamics are possible, including rapid transmission of ocean forcing inland. The source and routing of the subglacial till are unclear, but our data help constrain hypotheses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-69
Number of pages13
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - Sep 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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