Differential Geometry of Ice Flow

Felix Ng, Hilmar Gudmundsson, Edward King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Flowlines on ice sheets and glaciers form complex patterns. To explore their role in ice routing and extend the language for studying such patterns, we develop a theory of flow convergence and curvature in plan view. These geometric quantities respectively equal the negative divergence of the vector field of ice-flow direction and the curl of this field. From the first of these two fundamental results, we show that flow in individual catchments of an ice sheet can converge (despite its overall spreading) because ice divides are loci of strong divergence, and that a sign bifurcation in convergence occurs during ice-sheet “symmetry breaking” (the transition from near-radial spreading to spreading with substantial azimuthal velocities) and during the formation of ice-stream tributary networks. We also uncover the topological control behind balance-flux distributions across ice masses. Notably, convergence participates in mass conservation along flowlines to amplify ice flux via a positive feedback; thus the convergence field governs the form of ice-stream networks simulated by balance-velocity models. The theory provides a roadmap for understanding the tower-shaped plot of flow speed versus convergence for the Antarctic Ice Sheet.
Original languageEnglish
Article number161
Number of pages11
JournalFrontiers in Earth Science
Publication statusPublished - 23 Oct 2018


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