Century-scale discharge stagnation and reactivation of the Ross ice streams, West Antarctica



[1] Flow features on the surface of the Ross Ice Shelf, West Antarctica, record two episodes of ice stream stagnation and reactivation within the last 1000 years. We document these events using maps of streaklines emerging from individual ice streams made using visible band imagery, together with numerical models of ice shelf flow. Forward model experiments demonstrate that only a limited set of discharge scenarios could have produced the current streakline configuration. According to our analysis, Whillans Ice Stream ceased rapid flow about 850 calendar years ago and restarted about 400 years later and MacAyeal Ice Stream either stopped or slowed significantly between 800 and 700 years ago, restarting about 150 years later. Until now, ice-stream scenarios emphasized runaway retreat or stagnation on millennial timescales. Here we identify a new scenario: century-scale stagnation and reactivation cycles, as well as lateral communication with adjacent ice streams through thickness changes on lightly grounded ice plains. This introduces uncertainty into predictions for future sea-level withdrawals by the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which are based in part on recent slowing of Whillans Ice Stream and the stagnant condition of Kamb Ice Stream.