Inland migration of near-surface crevasses in the Amundsen Sea Sector, West Antarctica
Abstract. Since distributed satellite observations of elevation change and velocity became available in the 1990s, Thwaites, Pine Island, Haynes, Pope, and Kohler Glaciers, located in Antarctica’s Amundsen Sea Embayment, have thinned and accelerated in response to ocean-induced melting and grounding-line retreat. We develop a crevasse image segmentation algorithm to identify and map surface crevasses on the grounded portions of Thwaites, Pine Island, Haynes, Pope, and Kohler Glaciers between 2015 and 2022 using Sentinel-1A satellite synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery. We also develop a geometric model for firn tensile strength dependent on porosity and the tensile strength of ice. On Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers, which have both accelerated since 2015, crevassing has expanded tens of kilometers upstream of the 2015 extent. From the crevasse time series, we find that crevassing is strongly linked to principal surface stresses and consistent with von Mises fracture theory predictions. Our geometric model, analysis of SAR, and optical imagery, together with ice-penetrating radar data, suggest that these crevasses are near-surface features restricted to the firn. The porosity dependence of the near-surface tensile strength of the ice sheet may explain discrepancies between the tensile strength inferred from remotely-sensed surface crevasse observations and tensile strength measured in laboratory experiments, which often focus on ice (rather than firn) fracture. The near-surface nature of these features suggests that the expansion of crevasses inland has a limited direct impact on glacier mechanics.
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