A model of viscoelastic ice-shelf flexure

Douglas R. MacAyeal, Olga V. Sergienko, Alison F. Banwell

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31 Scopus citations


We develop a formal thin-plate treatment of the viscoelastic flexure of floating ice shelves as an initial step in treating various problems relevant to ice-shelf response to sudden changes of surface loads and applied bending moments (e.g. draining supraglacial lakes, iceberg calving, surface and basal crevassing). Our analysis is based on the assumption that total deformation is the sum of elastic and viscous (or power-law creep) deformations (i.e. akin to a Maxwell model of viscoelasticity, having a spring and dashpot in series). The treatment follows the assumptions of well-known thin-plate approximation, but is presented in a manner familiar to glaciologists and with Glen's flow law. We present an analysis of the viscoelastic evolution of an ice shelf subject to a filling and draining supraglacial lake. This demonstration is motivated by the proposition that flexure in response to the filling/drainage of meltwater features on the Larsen B ice shelf, Antarctica, contributed to the fragmentation process that accompanied its collapse in 2002.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)635-645
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Glaciology
Issue number228
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Earth-Surface Processes


  • Antarctic glaciology
  • Glacier modelling
  • Ice shelves
  • Ice-sheet modelling
  • Ice-shelf break-up


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