Any future changes in the volume of Antarctica's ice sheets will depend on the dynamic response of outlet glaciers to shifts in environmental conditions. In the Transantarctic Mountains, this response is probably heavily dependent on the geometry of the system, but few studies have quantified the sensitivity of these glaciers to environmental forcings. Here we investigated the controls, along-flow sensitivity and time-dependent dynamics of Skelton Glacier. Three key outcomes were: i) present-day flow is governed primarily by surface slope, which responds to reduced valley width and large bed undulations, ii) Skelton Glacier is more susceptible to changes in atmospheric temperature than precipitation through its effect on basal sliding near the grounding line, and iii) under conditions representative of Pliocene and Quaternary climates large changes in ice thickness and velocity would have occurred in the lower reaches of the glacier. Based on these new quantitative predictions of the past and present dynamics of Skelton Glacier, we suggest that similar Transantarctic Mountain outlet glaciers could experience greater ice loss in their confined, lower reaches through increased basal sliding and ocean melt under warmer-than-present conditions. These effects are greatest where overdeepenings exist near the grounding line.
- glacier dynamics
- Key words atmospheric temperature
- numerical modelling