Microstructure and fabric development in ice: Lessons learned from in situ experiments and implications for understanding rock evolution

Christopher J L Wilson*, Mark Peternell, Sandra Piazolo, Vladimir Luzin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


In this contribution we present a review of the evolution of microstructures and fabric in ice. Based on the review we show the potential use of ice as an analogue for rocks by considering selected examples that can be related to quartz-rich rocks. Advances in our understanding of the plasticity of ice have come from experimental investigations that clearly show that plastic deformation of polycrystalline ice is initially produced by basal slip. Interaction of dislocations play an essential role for dynamic recrystallization processes involving grain nucleation and grain-boundary migration during the steady-state flow of ice. To support this review we describe deformation in polycrystalline 'standard' water-ice and natural-ice samples, summarize other experiments involving bulk samples and use in situ plane-strain deformation experiments to illustrate the link between microstructure and fabric evolution, rheological response and dominant processes. Most terrestrial ice masses deform at low shear stresses by grain-size-insensitive creep with a stress exponent (n≤3). However, from experimental observations it is shown that the distribution of plastic activity producing the microstructure and fabric is initially dominated by grain-boundary migration during hardening (primary creep), followed by dynamic recrystallization during transient creep (secondary creep) involving new grain nucleation, with further cycles of grain growth and nucleation resulting in near steady-state creep (tertiary creep). The microstructural transitions and inferred mechanism changes are a function of local and bulk variations in strain energy (i.e. dislocation densities) with surface grain-boundary energy being secondary, except in the case of static annealing. As there is a clear correspondence between the rheology of ice and the high-temperature deformation dislocation creep regime of polycrystalline quartz, we suggest that lessons learnt from ice deformation can be used to interpret polycrystalline quartz deformation. Different to quartz, ice allows experimental investigations at close to natural strain rate, and through in-situ experiments offers the opportunity to study the dynamic link between microstructural development, rheology and the identification of the dominant processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-77
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Structural Geology
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014


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