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The Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access (SALSA) Project accessed Mercer Subglacial Lake using environmentally clean hot-water drilling to examine interactions among ice, water, sediment, rock, microbes and carbon reservoirs within the lake water column and underlying sediments. A ~0.4 m diameter borehole was melted through 1087 m of ice and maintained over ~10 days, allowing observation of ice properties and collection of water and sediment with various tools. Over this period, SALSA collected: 60 L of lake water and 10 L of deep borehole water; microbes >0.2 μm in diameter from in situ filtration of ~100 L of lake water; 10 multicores 0.32–0.49 m long; 1.0 and 1.76 m long gravity cores; three conductivity–temperature–depth profiles of borehole and lake water; five discrete depth current meter measurements in the lake and images of ice, the lake water–ice interface and lake sediments. Temperature and conductivity data showed the hydrodynamic character of water mixing between the borehole and lake after entry. Models simulating melting of the ~6 m thick basal accreted ice layer imply that debris fall-out through the ~15 m water column to the lake sediments from borehole melting had little effect on the stratigraphy of surficial sediment cores.
Surface melting on Amery Ice Shelf (AIS), East Antarctica, produces an extensive supraglacial drainage system consisting of hundreds of lakes connected by surface channels. This drainage system forms most summers on the southern portion of AIS, transporting meltwater large distances northward, toward the ice front and terminating in lakes. Here we use satellite imagery, Landsat (1, 4 and 8), MODIS multispectral and Sentinel-1 synthetic aperture radar to examine the seasonal and interannual evolution of the drainage system over nearly five decades (1972–2019). We estimate seasonal meltwater input to one lake by integrating output from the regional climate model [Regional Atmospheric Climate Model (RACMO 2.3p2)] over its catchment defined using the Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica. We find only weak positive relationships between modeled seasonal meltwater input and lake area and between meltwater input and lake volume. Consecutive years of extensive melting lead to year-on-year expansion of the drainage system, potentially through a link between melt production, refreezing in firn and the maximum extent of the lakes at the downstream termini of drainage. These mechanisms are important when evaluating the potential of drainage systems to grow in response to increased melting, delivering meltwater to areas of ice shelves vulnerable to hydrofracture.
Ice shelves play a critical role in modulating dynamic loss of ice from the grounded portion of the Antarctic Ice Sheet and its contribution to sea-level rise. Measurements of ice-shelf motion provide insights into processes modifying buttressing. Here we investigate the effect of seasonal variability of basal melting on ice flow of Ross Ice Shelf. Velocities were measured from November 2015 to December 2016 at 12 GPS stations deployed from the ice front to 430 km upstream. The flow-parallel velocity anomaly at each station, relative to the annual mean, was small during early austral summer (November–January), negative during February–April, and positive during austral winter (May–September). The maximum velocity anomaly reached several metres per year at most stations. We used a 2-D ice-sheet model of the RIS and its grounded tributaries to explore the seasonal response of the ice sheet to time-varying basal melt rates. We find that melt-rate response to changes in summer upper-ocean heating near the ice front will affect the future flow of RIS and its tributary glaciers. However, modelled seasonal flow variations from increased summer basal melting near the ice front are much smaller than observed, suggesting that other as-yet-unidentified seasonal processes are currently dominant.
The Antarctic Ice Sheet loses mass via its ice shelves predominantly through two processes: basal melting and iceberg calving. Iceberg calving is episodic and infrequent, and not well parameterized in ice-sheet models. Here, we investigate the impact of hydrostatic forces on calving. We develop two-dimensional elastic and viscous numerical frameworks to model the ‘footloose’ calving mechanism. This mechanism is triggered by submerged ice protrusions at the ice front, which induce unbalanced buoyancy forces that can lead to fracturing. We compare the results to identify the different roles that viscous and elastic deformations play in setting the rate and magnitude of calving events. Our results show that, although the bending stresses in both frameworks share some characteristics, their differences have important implications for modeling the calving process. In particular, the elastic model predicts that maximum stresses arise farther from the ice front than in the viscous model, leading to larger calving events. We also find that the elastic model would likely lead to more frequent events than the viscous one. Our work provides a theoretical framework for the development of a better understanding of the physical processes that govern glacier and ice-shelf calving cycles.
Satellite observations of gravity anomalies, ice-surface elevation and glacier velocity show significant increases in net grounded-ice-mass loss over the past decade along the Bellingshausen Sea sector (BSS), West Antarctica, in areas where warm (>1°C) sea water floods the continental shelf. These observations provide compelling but indirect evidence that mass losses are driven primarily by reduced buttressing from the floating ice shelves caused by ocean-driven ice-shelf thinning. Here, we combine recent observations of ice velocity, thickness and thickness changes with an ice flow model to study the instantaneous dynamic response of BSS outlet glaciers to observed ice-shelf thinning, alone. Our model results show that multiple BSS outlet glaciers respond instantaneously to observed ice-shelf thinning, particularly in areas where ice shelves ground at discrete points. Increases in modeled and observed dynamic mass losses, however, account for ~5% of the mass loss rates estimated from gravity anomalies and changes in ice-surface elevation, suggesting that variations in surface mass balance may be key to understanding recent BSS mass loss. Our approach isolates the impact of ice-shelf thinning on glacier flow and shows that if ice-shelf thinning continues at or above current rates, total BSS mass loss will increase in the next decade.
The ability to detect the surface expression of moving water beneath the Antarctic ice sheet by satellite has revealed a dynamic basal environment, with implications for regional ice dynamics, grounding-line stability, and fluxes of freshwater and nutrients to the Southern Ocean. Knowledge of subglacial activity on timescales important for near-term prediction of ice-sheet fluctuations (decadal to century) is limited by the short observational record of NASA's Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) laser altimetry mission used to generate the last continent-wide survey (2003–08). Here, we use synthetic aperture radar-interferometric-mode data from ESA's CryoSat-2 radar altimetry mission (2010–present), which samples 45 of the ICESat-derived subglacial lakes, to extend their time series to the end of 2016. The extended time series show that there have been surface-height changes at 20 of the 45 lakes since 2008, indicating that some of these features are persistent and potentially cyclic, while other features show negligible changes, suggesting these may be transient or nonhydrological features. Continued monitoring of active lakes for both height and velocity changes, as well as developing methods for identifying additional lakes, is critical to quantifying the full distribution of active subglacial lakes in Antarctica.
Flow-frictional resistance at the base of glaciers and ice sheets is strongly linked to subglacial water pressure. Understanding the physical mechanisms that govern meltwater fluxes in subglacial channels is hence critical for constraining variations in ice flow. Previous mathematical descriptions of soft-bed subglacial channels assume a viscous till rheology, which is inconsistent with laboratory data and the majority of field studies. Here, we use a grain-scale numerical formulation coupled to pore-water dynamics to analyze the structural stability of channels carved into soft beds. Contrary to the soft-bed channel models assuming viscous till rheology, we show that the flanks of till channels can support substantial ice loads without creep closure of the channel, because the sediment has finite frictional strength. Increased normal stress on the channel flanks causes plastic failure of the sediment, and the channel rapidly shrinks to increase the ice-bed contact area. We derive a new parameterization for subglacial channelized flow on soft beds and show that channel dynamics are dominated by fluvial erosion and deposition processes with thresholds linked to the plastic rheology of subglacial tills. We infer that the described limits to channel size may cause subglacial drainage to arrange in networks of multiple closely spaced channels.
Iceberg calving and basal melting are the two primary mass loss processes from the Antarctic ice sheet, accounting for approximately equal amounts of mass loss. Basal melting under ice shelves has been increasingly well constrained in recent work, but changes in iceberg calving rates remain poorly quantified. Here we examine the processes that precede iceberg calving, and focus on initiation and propagation of ice-shelf rifts. Using satellite imagery from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and the Multi-angle Imaging Spectroradiometer (MISR), we monitored five active rifts on the Amery Ice Shelf, Antarctica, from 2002 to 2014. We found a strong seasonal component: propagation rates were highest during (austral) summer and nearly zero during winter. We found substantial variability in summer propagation rates, but found no evidence that the variability was correlated with large-scale environmental drivers, such as atmospheric temperature, winds or sea-ice concentration. We did find a positive correlation between large propagation events and the arrival of tsunamis in the region. The variability appears to be related to visible structural boundaries within the ice shelf, e.g. suture zones or crevasse fields. This suggests that a complete understanding of rift propagation and iceberg calving needs to consider local heterogeneities within an ice shelf.
A clean hot-water drill was used to gain access to Subglacial Lake Whillans (SLW) in late January 2013 as part of the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) project. Over 3 days, we deployed an array of scientific tools through the SLW borehole: a downhole camera, a conductivity–temperature–depth (CTD) probe, a Niskin water sampler, an in situ filtration unit, three different sediment corers, a geothermal probe and a geophysical sensor string. Our observations confirm the existence of a subglacial water reservoir whose presence was previously inferred from satellite altimetry and surface geophysics. Subglacial water is about two orders of magnitude less saline than sea water (0.37–0.41 psu vs 35 psu) and two orders of magnitude more saline than pure drill meltwater (<0.002 psu). It reaches a minimum temperature of –0.55~C, consistent with depression of the freezing point by 7.019 MPa of water pressure. Subglacial water was turbid and remained turbid following filtration through 0.45 µm filters. The recovered sediment cores, which sampled down to 0.8 m below the lake bottom, contained a macroscopically structureless diamicton with shear strength between 2 and 6 kPa. Our main operational recommendation for future subglacial access through water-filled boreholes is to supply enough heat to the top of the borehole to keep it from freezing.
Petermann Gletscher, northwest Greenland, drains 4% of the Greenland ice sheet into Nares Strait. Its floating ice shelf retreated from 81 to 48 km in length during two large calving events in 2010 and 2012. We document changes in the three-dimensional ice-shelf structure from 2000 to 2012, using repeated tracks of airborne laser altimetry and ice radio-echo sounding, ICESat laser altimetry and MODIS visible imagery. The recent ice-shelf velocity, measured by tracking surface features between flights in 2010 and 2011, is ~1.25 km a−1, ~15–30% faster than estimates made before 2010. The steady- state along-flow ice divergence represents 6.3 Gta−1 mass loss through basal melting (~5Gta−1) and surface melting and sublimation (~1.0Gta−1). Airborne laser altimeter data reveal thinning, both along a thin central channel and on the thicker ambient ice shelf. From 2007 to 2010 the ice shelf thinned by ~5 m a−1, which represents a non-steady mass loss of ~4.1 Gta−1. We suggest that thinning in the basal channels structurally weakened the ice shelf and may have played a role in the recent calving events.
A connected system of active subglacial lakes was revealed beneath Recovery Ice Stream, East Antarctica, by ICESat laser altimetry. Here we combine repeat-track analysis of ICESat (2003–09), Operation IceBridge laser altimetry and radio-echo sounding (2011 and 2012), and MODIS image differencing (2009–2011) to learn more about the lake activity history, the surface and bedrock topographic setting of the lakes and the constraints on water flow through the system. We extend the lake activity time series to 2012 for the three lower lakes and capture two major lake drainages. One lake underwent a large deflation between 2009 and 2011 while another lake, which had been continuously filling between 2003 and 2010, started to drain after 2011. Most of the active lakes are located in a ~ 1000 km long bedrock trough under the main trunk of Recovery Ice Stream, whose base is ~ 1500– 2000 m below present-day sea level. The hydrologic system beneath Recovery Ice Stream is controlled by this unusually pronounced bedrock topography, in contrast to most Antarctic systems studied to date, which are controlled by the ice surface topography. Hydrologic connections among the lakes appear to be direct and responsive, and we reproduce the lake activity using a simple subglacial water model. We discuss potential causes of non-steady hydrologic behavior in major Antarctic catchments.
We use repeat-track laser altimeter data from the Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) to map the grounding zone (GZ) of the Filchner–Ronne Ice Shelf, Antarctica. Ice flexure in the GZ occurs as the ice shelf responds to ocean-height changes due primarily to tides. We have identified three ‘ice plains’, regions of low surface slope near the GZ where the ice is close to hydrostatic equilibrium: one on Institute Ice Stream; another to its east; and another west of Foundation Ice Stream. The vertical information from repeated ICESat tracks enables us to study the topography, state of flotation and flexure characteristics across these features. In regions of ephemeral grounding, tidal migration of the grounding line allows us to estimate bed slope (∼1–2 × 10−3). From these studies we develop a classification scheme for ice plains, expressed in terms of the evolution, or ‘life cycle’, of these features. A lightly grounded ice plain progresses to a state of ephemeral grounding as the ice sheet thins near the GZ. Once sufficient thinning has occurred, the ice plain becomes a fully floating, relict ice plain with an undulated surface topography similar to that of lightly grounded ice; we expect viscous relaxation to a smooth ice-shelf surface to occur over a timescale of decades. Our improved insight into ice-plain evolution suggests added complexity in modeling ice in the vicinity of the GZ, and a role for ice-plain observations as a guide to relatively rapid changes in ice-sheet mass balance.
Subglacial lakes beneath Antarctica’s fast-moving ice streams are known to undergo ∼1 km3 volume changes on annual timescales. Focusing on the MacAyeal Ice Stream (MacIS) lake system, we create a simple model for the response of subglacial water distribution to lake discharge events through assimilation of lake volume changes estimated from Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) laser altimetry. We construct a steady-state water transport model in which known subglacial lakes are treated as either sinks or sources depending on the ICESat-derived filling or draining rates. The modeled volume change rates of five large subglacial lakes in the downstream portion of MacIS are shown to be consistent with observed filling rates if the dynamics of all upstream lakes are considered. However, the variable filling rate of the northernmost lake suggests the presence of an undetected lake of similar size upstream. Overall, we show that, for this fast-flowing ice stream, most subglacial lakes receive >90% of their water from distant distributed sources throughout the catchment, and we confirm that water is transported from regions of net basal melt to regions of net basal freezing. Our study provides a geophysically based means of validating subglacial water models in Antarctica and is a potential way to parameterize subglacial lake discharge events in large-scale ice-sheet models where adequate data are available.
We use laser altimetry from the Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) to map the grounding zone (GZ) of the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica, at 491 locations where ICESat tracks cross the grounding line (GL). Ice flexure in the GZ occurs as the ice shelf responds to short-term sea-level changes due primarily to tides. ICESat repeat-track analysis can be used to detect this region of flexure since each repeated pass is acquired at a different tidal phase; the technique provides estimates for both the landward limit of flexure and the point where the ice becomes hydrostatically balanced. We find that the ICESat-derived landward limits of tidal flexure are, in many places, offset by several km (and up to ∼60km) from the GL mapped previously using other satellite methods. We discuss the reasons why different mapping methods lead to different GL estimates, including: instrument limitations; variability in the surface topographic structure of the GZ; and the presence of ice plains. We conclude that reliable and accurate mapping of the GL is most likely to be achieved when based on synthesis of several satellite datasets.
The ice streams feeding the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica, have large tidally modulated (sinusoidal and stick–slip) flow, but the interaction with the ice shelf is poorly understood. We show that the flow of the Ross Ice Shelf front, up to ∼650 km from the ice streams, exhibits smooth, sinusoidal motions corresponding to tidal modulation. These observations suggest a possible linking of the ice shelf with the ice streams to form a unified system that responds to small perturbations in stresses associated with ocean tides. If this is the case, the presence of the sinusoidal motion but the absence of stick–slip motion suggests there is damping of very high-frequency signals. The dissimilar signatures of the motions observed in the ice streams and at the front of the ice shelf present challenges to model development aimed at understanding the dynamics of coupled ice-stream/ice-shelf flow and the movement of ice across grounding lines.
We present an analysis of the active hydrologic system of MacAyeal Ice Stream (MacIS), West Antarctica, from a synthesis of multiple remote-sensing techniques: satellite laser altimetry; satellite image differencing; and hydrologic potential mapping (using a satellite-derived DEM and a bedrock DEM from airborne radio-echo sounding). Combining these techniques augments the information provided by each one individually, and allows us to develop a protocol for studying subglacial hydrologic systems in a holistic manner. Our study reveals five large active subglacial lakes under MacIS, the largest of which undergoes volume changes of at least 1.0 km3. We discuss the hydrologic properties of this system and present evidence for links between the lakes. At least three of the lakes are co-located with sticky spots, i.e. regions of high local basal shear stress. We also find evidence for surface elevation changes due to ice-dynamic effects (not just water movement) caused by changes in basal resistance. Lastly, we show that satellite radar altimetry is of limited use for monitoring lake activity on fast-flowing ice streams with surfaces that undulate on ∼10 km length scales.
We use a combination of satellite techniques (interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR), visible-band imagery, and repeat-track laser altimetry) to develop a benchmark map for the Amery Ice Shelf (AIS) grounding zone (GZ), including its islands and ice rises. The break-in-slope, as an indirect estimate of grounding line location, was mapped for the entire AIS. We have also mapped ∼55% of the landward edge and ∼30% of the seaward edge of the ice shelf flexure boundary for the AIS perimeter. Vertical ice motion from Global Positioning System receivers confirms the location of the satellite-derived GZ in two regions. Our map redefines the extent of floating ice in the south-western AIS and identifies several previously unmapped grounded regions, improving our understanding of the stresses supporting the current dynamical state of the ice shelf. Finally, we identify three along-flow channels in the ice shelf basal topography, approximately 10 km apart, 1.5 km wide and 300–500 m deep, near the southern GZ. These channels, which form at the suture zones between ice streams, may represent zones of potential weakness in the ice shelf and may influence sub-ice-shelf ocean circulation.
We examine patterns of localized surface elevation change in lower Mercer and Whillans Ice Streams, West Antarctica, which we interpret as subglacial water movement through a system of lakes and channels. We detect and measure the lake activity using repeat-track laser altimetry from ICESat and image differencing from MODIS image pairs. A hydrostatic-potential map for the region shows that the lakes are distributed across three distinct hydrologic regimes. Our analysis shows that, within these regimes, some of the subglacial lakes appear to be linked, with drainage events in one reservoir causing filling and follow-on drainage in adjacent lakes. We also observe changes near ice raft ‘a’ in lower Whillans Ice Stream, and interpret them as evidence of subglacial water and other changes at the bed. The study provides quantitative information about the properties of this complex subglacial hydrologic system, and a relatively unstudied component of ice-sheet mass balance: subglacial drainage across the grounding line.
The Amery Ice Shelf, East Antarctica, undergoes high basal melt rates near the southern limit of its grounding line where 80% of the ice melts within 240 km of becoming afloat. A considerable portion of this later refreezes downstream as marine ice. This produces a marine ice layer up to 200 m thick in the northwest sector of the ice shelf concentrated in a pair of longitudinal bands that extend some 200 km all the way to the calving front. We drilled through the eastern marine ice band at two locations 70 km apart on the same flowline. We determine an average accretion rate of marine ice of 1.1 ± 0.2 m a−1, at a reference density of 920 kg m−3 between borehole sites, and infer a similar average rate of 1.3 ± 0.2 m a−1 upstream. The deeper marine ice was permeable enough that a hydraulic connection was made whilst the drill was still 70–100 m above the ice-shelf base. Below this marine close-off depth, borehole video imagery showed permeable ice with water-filled cavities and individual ice platelets fused together, while the upper marine ice was impermeable with small brine-cell inclusions. We infer that the uppermost portion of the permeable ice becomes impermeable with the passage of time and as more marine ice is accreted on the base of the shelf. We estimate an average closure rate of 0.3 m a−1 between the borehole sites; upstream the average closure rate is faster at 0.9 m a−1. We estimate an average porosity of the total marine ice layer of 14–20%, such that the deeper ice must have even higher values. High permeability implies that sea water can move relatively freely through the material, and we propose that where such marine ice exists this renders deep parts of the ice shelf particularly vulnerable to changes in ocean properties.