Byrd Glacier Flow Dynamics

Byrd Glacier is one of the largest and fastest-flowing glaciers in Antarctica. Only recently did we realize that Byrd Glacier can undergo short-lived, but significant changes in flow speed in response to the draining of two large subglacial lakes located in its catchment. The purpose of this NSF funded project is to understand the flow dynamics of large, fast-moving outlet glaciers that drain the East Antarctic Ice Sheet by means of an integrated field, remote sensing, and modeling study of Byrd Glacier. Several hypotheses will be tested:

  1. Byrd Glacier experiences variability on a range of timescales (daily to seasonal to annual) as a response to tidal and hydrological forcings;
  2. The configuration of Byrd Glacier’s grounding line makes it susceptible to rapid retreat up the fjord;
  3. Subglacial lakes in the catchment fill and drain on a regular basis and provide periodic forcing of a glacier flow response.

We continue to deploy a dense network of GPS instruments on the grounded trunk and floating portions of the glacier in 2010 - 2013. This data provides us with continuous, high-resolution time series of horizontal and vertical motions over a 26-month period. Results will be places in the context of a longer record of remote sensing observations covering a larger spatial extent, and the combined datasets will be used to constrain a numerical model of the glacier’s flow dynamics.

This is an NSF-funded project, "Collaborative Research: Byrd Glacier Flow Dynamics" with:

  • Gordon S. Hamilton, University of Maine
  • Leigh A. Stearns, University of Kansas
  • C.J. van der Veen, University of Kansas

Byrd Glacier Papers and Presentations


  1. Stearns, L. A. 2011. Mass balance of four East Antarctic outlet glaciers. Annals of Glaciology, 41, 71 – 76.
  2. Stearns, L. A., B. L. Smith and G. S. Hamilton. 2008. Subglacial floods cause rapid increase in flow speed of a major East Antarctic outlet glacier. Nature Geoscience, doi:10.1038/ngeo0356.
  3. Stearns, L. A. and G. S. Hamilton. 2005. A new velocity map for Byrd Glacier, East Antarctica, derived from high-resolution satellite imagery. Annals of Glaciology, 41, 71 – 76.


  1. Child, S. F. and others. The relationship between ice velocity and bed topography on Byrd Glacier, Antarctica. Eos. Trans. AGU, 93, Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract C31A-0581, San Francisco, CA, December 2012.
  2. Stearns, L. A. Subglacial drainage events under outlet glacier end-members: Byrd Glacier and Whillans Ice Stream. AGU Chapman Conference, Baltimore, MD, March 2010.
  3. Stearns, L. A. and G. S. Hamilton. Mass balance of the Ross Sea sector of East Antarctica. International Polar Year Oslo Science Conference, Oslo, Norway, June 2010.
  4. Stearns, L. A. Flow dynamics and mass balance estimates of four large East Antarctic outlet glaciers. IGS meeting: International Symposium on Earth’s Disappearing Ice: Drivers, Responses and Impacts, Columbus, OH, August 2010.
  5. Stearns, L. A., B. L. Smith, and G. S. Hamilton. Subglacial lake outburst floods and Antarctic ice dynamics, Eos. Trans. AGU, 90(52), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract C34A-08, San Francisco, CA, December 2009.

contact information

email: stearns 'at'
phone: 785-864-4202