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The Geologic Influence on a West Antarctic Ice Stream
Reference
Bell, R.E., Blankenship, D.D., Finn, C.A., Morse, D.L., Scambos, T.A., Brozena, J.M. and Hodge, S.M.  1998.  Influence of subglacial geology on the onset of a West Antarctic ice stream from aerogeophysical observations.  Nature 394: 58-62.

What was done
Aerogeophysical data were obtained and used to investigate processes that govern fast moving ice streams on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS).

What was learned
In conjunction with various models, the data suggested a close correlation between the margins of various ice streams and the underlying sedimentary basins, which appear to act as lubricants for the overlying ice.  The authors thus suggest that the positions of ice-stream margins and their onsets are controlled by features of the underlying sedimentary basins.

What it means
The authors conclude that "geological structures beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet have the potential to dictate the evolution of the dynamic ice system, modulating the influence of changes in the global climate system."  Consequently, it is unclear what effect, if any, a modest rise in near-surface air temperatures would have on this phenomenon.

Reviewed 15 October 1998