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Durham University

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Identification and characterisation of ice stream sticky spots: an improved understanding of ice stream basal mechanics and shut-down

A research project of the Department of Geography.


Localised areas (101 - 103m) of basal friction ('sticky spots') are known to be a significant control on ice stream behaviour and shutdown and hence, overall ice sheet stability. Although of critical importance, they are difficult to observe and characterise beneath contemporary ice streams. The aim of this project, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), is to overcome this problem by using Earth Observation and fieldwork to map and characterise their distribution on three exposed former ice stream beds in Arctic Canada. This will provide the first physical description of the nature and occurrence of sticky spots including geologic, topographic and geotechnical data on their dimensions, geomorphology and distribution. Incorporated into a GIS, this data will be used to test an existing numerical model of ice stream shutdown and examine sticky spot influence on ice stream functioning.

MODIS Image showing bedrock ridge ‘sticky spots’ manifest at the surface of Ice Stream E, West Antarctica (image obtained from Haran et al. 2005: National Snow and Ice Data Center).


Stokes, C.R., Lian, O.B., Tulaczyk, S. and Clark, C.D. (2008) Superimposition of ribbed moraines on a palaeo-ice stream bed: implications for ice stream dynamics and shut-down. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 33, 4, 593-609.

Stokes, C.R., Clark, C.D., Lian, O. and Tulaczyk, S. (2007) Ice stream sticky spots: a review of their identification and influence beneath contemporary and palaeo-ice streams. Earth Science Reviews, 81, 217-249.

Stokes, C.R., Clark, C.D. Lian, O.,Tulaczyk, S. (2006) Geomorphological Map of ribbed moraine on the Dubawnt Lake Ice Stream bed: a signature of ice stream shut-down? Journal of Maps, 2006, 1-9.

External Collaborators

  • Professor Chris Clark (University of Sheffield, UK)
  • Professor Slawek Tulaczyk (University of California, Santa Cruz, USA)
  • Dr Olav Lian (University College of the Fraser Valley, BC, Canada)


From the Department of Geography