Not all Icequakes are Created Equal: Basal Icequakes Suggest Diverse Bed Deformation Mechanisms at Rutford Ice Stream, West Antarctica

Sofia Katerina Kufner, Alex M. Brisbourne, Andrew M. Smith, Thomas S. Hudson, Tavi Murray, Rebecca Schlegel, John M. Kendall, Sridhar Anandakrishnan, Ian Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Microseismicity, induced by the sliding of a glacier over its bed, can be used to characterize frictional properties of the ice-bed interface, which are a key parameter controlling ice stream flow. We use naturally occurring seismicity to monitor spatiotemporally varying bed properties at Rutford Ice Stream, West Antarctica. We locate 230,000 micro-earthquakes with local magnitudes from −2.0 to −0.3 using 90 days of recordings from a 35-station seismic network located ∼40 km upstream of the grounding line. Events exclusively occur near the ice-bed interface and indicate predominantly flow-parallel stick-slip. They mostly lie within a region of interpreted stiff till and along the likely stiffer part of mega-scale glacial lineations. Within these regions, micro-earthquakes occur in spatially (<100 m radius) and temporally (mostly 1–5 days activity) restricted event-clusters (up to 4,000 events), which exhibit an increase, followed by a decrease, in event magnitude with time. This may indicate event triggering once activity is initiated. Although ocean tides modulate the surface ice flow velocity, we observe little periodic variation in overall event frequency over time and conclude that water content, bed topography and stiffness are the major factors controlling microseismicity. Based on variable rupture mechanisms and spatiotemporal characteristics, we suggest the event-clusters relate to three end-member types of bed deformation: (1) continuous creation and seismogenic destruction of small-scale bed-roughness, (2) ploughed clasts, and (3) flow-oblique deformation during landform formation or along bedrock outcrops. This indicates that multiple processes, simultaneously active during glacial sliding, can accommodate stick-slip behavior and that the bed continuously reorganizes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020JF006001
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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