Byrd Glacier Flow Dynamics

Byrd Glacier is one of the largest and fastest-flowing glaciers in Antarctica. Only recently was it realized that Byrd Glacier can undergo short-lived, but significant changes in flow speed in response to the draining of two large subglacial lakes located in its catchment.

The purpose of this NSF funded project is to understand the flow dynamics of large, fast-moving outlet glaciers that drain the East Antarctic Ice Sheet by means of an integrated field, remote sensing, and modeling study of Byrd Glacier. Several hypotheses will be tested:
  1. Byrd Glacier experiences variability on a range of timescales (daily to seasonal to annual) as a response to tidal and hydrological forcings;
  2. The configuration of Byrd Glacier’s grounding line makes it susceptible to rapid retreat up the fjord;
  3. Subglacial lakes in the catchment fill and drain on a regular basis and provide periodic forcing of a glacier flow response.
We will deploy a dense network of GPS instruments on the grounded trunk and floating portions of the glacier in 2010 - 2013. This will provide us with continuous, high-resolution time series of horizontal and vertical motions over a 26-month period. Results will be places in the context of a longer record of remote sensing observations covering a larger spatial extent, and the combined datasets will be used to constrain a numerical model of the glacier’s flow dynamics.
  • Stearns et al., 2008. Increased flow speed on a large East Antarctic outlet glacier caused by subglacial floods. Nature Geoscience, 1, doi:10.1038/ngeo356.