28 Mar 2024
 | 28 Mar 2024
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

The influence of firn-layer material properties on surface crevasse propagation in glaciers and ice shelves

Theo Clayton, Ravindra Duddu, Tim Hageman, and Emilio Martinez-Paneda

Abstract. Linear elastic fracture mechanics (LEFM) models have been used to estimate crevasse depths in glaciers and to represent iceberg calving in ice sheet models. However, existing LEFM models assume glacier ice to be homogeneous and utilise the mechanical properties of fully consolidated ice. Using depth-invariant properties is not realistic, as the process of compaction from unconsolidated snow to firn to glacial ice is dependent on several environmental factors, typically leading to a lesser density and Young's modulus in upper surface strata. New analytical solutions for longitudinal stress profiles are derived, using depth-varying properties based on borehole data from the Ronne ice shelf, and used in an LEFM model to determine the maximum penetration depths of an isolated crevasse in grounded glaciers and floating ice shelves. These maximum crevasse depths are compared to those obtained for homogeneous glacial ice, showing the importance of including the effect of the upper unconsolidated firn layers on crevasse propagation. The largest reductions in penetration depth ratio were observed for shallow grounded glaciers, with variations in Young's modulus being more influential than firn density (a maximum difference in crevasse depth of 46 % and 20 % respectively); whereas, firn density changes resulted in an increase in penetration depth for thinner floating ice shelves (95 %–188 % difference in crevasse depth between constant and depth-varying properties). Thus, our study shows that the firn layer can increase the vulnerability of ice shelves to fracture and calving, highlighting the importance of considering depth-dependent firn-layer material properties in LEFM models for estimating crevasse penetration depths and predicting rift propagation.

Theo Clayton, Ravindra Duddu, Tim Hageman, and Emilio Martinez-Paneda

Status: open (until 12 May 2024)

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Theo Clayton, Ravindra Duddu, Tim Hageman, and Emilio Martinez-Paneda
Theo Clayton, Ravindra Duddu, Tim Hageman, and Emilio Martinez-Paneda


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Short summary
We develop and validate new analytical solutions that quantitatively consider how the properties of ice vary along the depth of ice shelves and can be readily used in existing ice sheet models. Depth-varying firn properties are found to have a profound impact on ice sheet fracture and calving events. Our results show that grounded glaciers are less vulnerable than previously anticipated while floating ice shelves are significantly more vulnerable to fracture and calving.