Document Type


Publication Title

Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth

Publication Date


First Page


Volume Number


Abstract/ Summary

The analytical force balance traditionally used in glaciology relates gravitational forcing to ice surface slope for sheet flow and to ice basal buoyancy for shelf flow. It is unable to represent stream flow as a transition from sheet flow to shelf flow by having gravitational forcing gradually passing from being driven by surface slope to being driven by basal buoyancy downslope along the length of an ice steam. This is a serious defect, because ice streams discharge up to 90% of ice from ice sheets into the sea. The defect is overcome by using a geometrical force balance that includes basal buoyancy, represented by the ratio of basal water pressure to ice overburden pressure, as a source of gravitational forcing. When combined with the mass balance, the geometrical force balance provides a holistic approach to ice flow in which resistance to gravitational flow must be summed upstream from the calving front of an ice shelf. This is not done in the analytical force balance, and it provides the ice-thinning rate required by gravitational collapse of ice sheets as interior ice is downdrawn by ice streams.

Citation/Publisher Attribution

Hughes, T, 2003, Geometrical Force Balance in Glaciology: Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth, v. 108, p. 2526. To view the published open abstract, go to and enter the DOI.

Publisher Statement

© Copyright 2003 American Geophysical Union




publisher's version of the published document