The relationship between sticky spots and radar reflectivity beneath an active West Antarctic ice stream

David W. Ashmore, Robert G. Bingham, Richard C.A. Hindmarsh, Hugh F.J. Corr, Ian R. Joughin

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13 Citations (Scopus)
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Isolated areas of high basal drag, or 'sticky spots', are important and poorly understood features in the force balance and dynamics of West Antarctic ice streams. Characterizing sticky spots formed by thin or drying subglacial till using ice-penetrating radar is theoretically possible, as high radar bed-returned power (BRP) is commonly related to an abundance of free water at the ice/bed interface, provided losses from englacial attenuation can be estimated. In this study we use airborne radar data collected over Evans Ice Stream to extract BRP profiles and test the sensitivity of BRP to the adopted englacial attenuation correction. We analyse 11 ∼20 km profiles in four fast-flow areas where sticky spots have been inferred to exist on the basis of model and surface data inversions. In the majority of profiles we note that the increase in basal drag is accompanied by a decrease in BRP and suggest that this is evidence both for the presence of a sticky spot in those locations and that local variations in subglacial hydrology are responsible for their existence. A comparison is made between empirical and numerical modelling approaches for deriving englacial attenuation, and our findings generally support previous studies that advocate a modelling approach.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-38
Number of pages10
JournalAnnals of Glaciology
Issue number67
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jul 2014


  • aerogeophysical measurements
  • Antarctic glaciology
  • glacier geophysics
  • radio-echo sounding
  • subglacial processes


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