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The triggering of subglacial lake drainage during rapid glacier drawdown: Crane Glacier, Antarctic Peninsula

  • Ted A. Scambos (a1), Etienne Berthier (a2) and Christopher A. Shuman (a3) (a4)


Ice surface altimetry from ICESat-1 and NASA aircraft altimeter overflights spanning 2002–09 indicate that a region of lower Crane Glacier, Antarctic Peninsula, shows an unusual temporal pattern of elevation loss: a period of very rapid drawdown (~91ma–1 between September 2004 and September 2005) bounded by periods of large but more moderate rates (23ma–1 until September 2004; 12ma–1 after September 2005). The region of increased drawdown is ~4.5 km ×2.2 km based on satellite (ASTER and SPOT-5) stereo-image digital elevation model (DEM) differencing spanning the event. In a later differential DEM the anomalous drawdown feature is not seen. Bathymetry in Crane Glacier fjord reveals a series of flat-lying, formerly subglacial deeps interpreted as lake sediment basins. We conclude that the elevation-change feature resulted from drainage of a small, deep subglacial lake. We infer that the drainage event was induced by hydraulic forcing of subglacial water past a downstream obstruction. However, only a fraction of Crane Glacier’s increase in flow speed that occurred near the time of lake drainage (derived from image feature tracking) appears to be directly attributable to the event; instead, retreat of the ice front off a subglacial ridge 6 km downstream of the lake is likely the dominant cause of renewed fast flow and more negative mass balance in the subsequent 4 years.

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