Enigmatic surface rolls of the Ellesmere Ice Shelf

Niall B. Coffey, Douglas R. Macayeal, Luke Copland, Derek R. Mueller, Olga V. Sergienko, Alison F. Banwell, Ching Yao Lai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The once-contiguous Ellesmere Ice Shelf, first reported in writing by European explorers in 1876, and now almost completely disintegrated, has rolling, wave-like surface topography, the origin of which we investigate using a viscous buckling instability analysis. We show that rolls can develop during a winter season (∼ 100 d) if sea-ice pressure (depth-integrated horizontal stress applied to the seaward front of the Ellesmere Ice Shelf) is sufficiently large (1 MPa m) and ice thickness sufficiently low (1-10 m). Roll wavelength initially depends only on sea-ice pressure, but evolves over time depending on amplitude growth rate. This implies that a thinner ice shelf, with its faster amplitude growth rate, will have a shorter wavelength compared to a thicker ice shelf when sea-ice pressure is equal. A drawback of the viscous buckling mechanism is that roll amplitude decays once sea-ice pressure is removed. However, non-Newtonian ice rheology, where effective viscosity, and thus roll change rate, depends on total applied stress may constrain roll decay rate to be much slower than growth rate and allow roll persistence from year to year. Whether the viscous-buckling mechanism we explore here ultimately can be confirmed as the origin of the Ellesmere Ice Shelf rolls remains for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)867-878
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Glaciology
Issue number271
StatePublished - Oct 28 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Earth-Surface Processes


  • Arctic glaciology
  • ice rheology
  • ice shelves
  • sea-ice modeling
  • sea-ice/ice-shelf interactions


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