Floating ice shelves of fast-flowing ice streams are prone to rift initiation and calving originating along zones of rapid shearing at their margins. Predicting future ice-shelf destabilization under a warming ocean scenario, with the resultant reduced buttressing, faster ice flow, and sea-level rise, therefore requires an understanding of the processes that thin and weaken these shear margins. Here, we use satellite data to show that high velocity gradients result in surface troughs along the margins of fast-flowing ice streams. These troughs are advected into ice-shelf margins, where the locally thinned ice floats upward to form basal troughs. Buoyant plumes of warm ocean water beneath ice shelves can be focused into these basal troughs, localizing melting and weakening the ice-shelf margins. This implies that major ice sheet drainages are preconditioned for rapid retreat in response to ocean warming.
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