Model insights into bed control on retreat of Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica

Emily Schwans, Byron R. Parizek, Richard B. Alley, Sridhar Anandakrishnan, Mathieu M. Morlighem

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Thwaites Glacier (TG) plays an important role in future sea-level rise (SLR) contribution from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Recent observations show that TG is losing mass, and its grounding zone is retreating. Previous modeling has produced a wide range of results concerning whether, when, and how rapidly further retreat will occur under continued warming. These differences arise at least in part from ill-constrained processes, including friction from the bed, and future atmosphere and ocean forcing affecting ice-shelf and grounding-zone buttressing. Here, we apply the Ice Sheet and Sea-level System Model (ISSM) with a range of specifications of basal sliding behavior in response to varying ocean forcing. We find that basin-wide bed character strongly affects TG's response to sub-shelf melt by modulating how changes in driving stress are balanced by the bed as the glacier responds to external forcing. Resulting differences in dynamic thinning patterns alter modeled grounding-line retreat across Thwaites' catchment, affecting both modeled rates and magnitudes of SLR contribution from this critical sector of the ice sheet. Bed character introduces large uncertainties in projections of TG under equal external forcing, pointing to this as a crucial constraint needed in predictive models of West Antarctica.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1241-1259
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Glaciology
Issue number277
StatePublished - Oct 9 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Earth-Surface Processes

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