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Characterizing englacial drainage in the ablation zone of the Greenland ice sheet

  • Ginny A. Catania (a1), Thomas A. Neumann (a2) and Stephen F. Price (a3)


Rapid, local drainage of surface meltwater to the base of the Greenland ice sheet is thought to result in surface velocity variations as far inland as the equilibrium zone (Zwally and others, 2002). Ice-penetrating radar surveys throughout this region allow us to characterize englacial drainage features that appear as vertically stacked diffraction hyperbolae in common-offset profiles. These data are used with a radar-simulation model, which allows for variations in geometry, penetration depth and infill material, to understand the characteristics of these hyperbolae and the likelihood that they are produced by moulins. We find only a moderate correlation between the locations of these possible moulins and supraglacial lakes, indicating that many lakes drain over the surface of the ice sheet, or do not contain sufficient water to reach the bed through moulin formation. We find a strong correlation between moulin location in the ablation region and elevated along-flow tension (due to flow over rough bedrock), which generates surface crevassing and provides an entry point for meltwater. Although theory suggests that moulins may form anywhere on the ice sheet given sufficient meltwater input, our data suggest that they are far more common in the ablation zone than near, or inland from, the equilibrium line.

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