Letter

Nature 453, 770-774 (5 June 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature06990; Received 9 December 2007; Accepted 6 April 2008

Simultaneous teleseismic and geodetic observations of the stick–slip motion of an Antarctic ice stream

Douglas A. Wiens1, Sridhar Anandakrishnan2, J. Paul Winberry2 & Matt A. King3

  1. Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Washington University, St Louis, Missouri 63130, USA
  2. Department of Geosciences, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA
  3. School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU, UK

Correspondence to: Douglas A. Wiens1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to D.A.W. (Email: doug@wustl.edu).

Long-period seismic sources associated with glacier motion have been recently discovered1, 2, and an increase in ice flow over the past decade has been suggested on the basis of secular changes in such measurements3. Their significance, however, remains uncertain, as a relationship to ice flow has not been confirmed by direct observation. Here we combine long-period surface-wave observations with simultaneous Global Positioning System measurements of ice displacement to study the tidally modulated stick–slip motion of the Whillans Ice Stream in West Antarctica4, 5. The seismic origin time corresponds to slip nucleation at a region of the bed of the Whillans Ice Stream that is likely stronger than in surrounding regions and, thus, acts like an 'asperity' in traditional fault models. In addition to the initial pulse, two seismic arrivals occurring 10–23 minutes later represent stopping phases as the slip terminates at the ice stream edge and the grounding line. Seismic amplitude and average rupture velocity are correlated with tidal amplitude for the different slip events during the spring-to-neap tidal cycle. Although the total seismic moment calculated from ice rigidity, slip displacement, and rupture area is equivalent to an earthquake of moment magnitude seven (M w 7), seismic amplitudes are modest (M s 3.6–4.2), owing to the source duration of 20–30 minutes. Seismic radiation from ice movement is proportional to the derivative of the moment rate function at periods of 25–100 seconds and very long-period radiation is not detected, owing to the source geometry. Long-period seismic waves are thus useful for detecting and studying sudden ice movements but are insensitive to the total amount of slip.

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