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To increase inclusivity, diversity, equity and accessibility in Antarctic science, we must build more positive and inclusive Antarctic field work environments. The International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC) has engaged in efforts to contribute to that goal through a variety of activities since 2018, including creating an open-access ‘Field and Ship Best Practices’ guide, engaging in pre-field season team dynamics meetings, and surveying post-field season reflections and experiences. We report specific actions taken by ITGC and their outcomes. We found that strong and supported early career researchers brought new and important perspectives regarding strategies for transforming culture. We discovered that engaged and involved senior leadership was also critical for expanding participation and securing funding to support efforts. Pre-field discussions involving all field team members were particularly helpful for setting expectations, improving sense of belonging, describing field work best practices, and co-creating a positive work culture.
Refreezing of meltwater in firn is a major component of Greenland ice-sheet's mass budget, but in situ observations are rare. Here, we compare the firn density and total ice layer thickness in the upper 15 m of 19 new and 27 previously published firn cores drilled at 15 locations in southwest Greenland (1850–2360 m a.s.l.) between 1989 and 2019. At all sites, ice layer thickness covaries with density over time and space. At the two sites with the earliest observations (1989 and 1998), bulk density increased by 15–18%, in the top 15 m over 28 and 21 years, respectively. However, following the extreme melt in 2012, elevation-detrended density using 30 cores from all sites decreased by 15 kg m−3 a−1 in the top 3.75 m between 2013 and 2019. In contrast, the lowest elevation site's density shows no trend. Thus, temporary build-up in firn pore space and meltwater infiltration capacity is possible despite the long-term increase in Greenland ice-sheet melting.
Firn compaction models inform mass-balance estimates and paleo-climate reconstructions, but current models introduce key uncertainties. For example, models disagree on the dependence of density and compaction on accumulation rate. Observations of compaction to test these models are rare, partly because in situ methods for measuring englacial strain are time-consuming and expensive. Moreover, shallow measurements may confound strain due to compaction with strain due to ice-sheet flow. We show that phase-sensitive radio-echo sounder (pRES) systems, typically deployed to measure sub-shelf melting or ice-sheet deformation, can be used to measure firn compaction and test firn models. We present two complementary methods for extracting compaction information from pRES data, along with a method for comparing compaction models to pRES observations. The methods make different assumptions about the density structure and vary in their need for independent density measurements. Compaction profiles computed from pRES data collected on three ice rises in West Antarctica are largely consistent with measured densities and a physics-based model. With their minimal logistic requirements, new pRES systems, such as autonomous pRES, could be inexpensively deployed to monitor firn compaction more widely. Existing phase-sensitive radar data may contain compaction information even when surveys targeted other processes.
The influence of surface melt on the flow of Greenland's largest outlet glaciers remains poorly known and in situ observations are few. We use field observations to link surface meltwater forcing to glacier-wide diurnal velocity variations on East Greenland's Helheim Glacier over two summer melt seasons. We observe diurnal variations in glacier speed that peak ~6.5 h after daily maximum insolation and extend from the terminus region to the equilibrium line. Both the amplitude of the diurnal speed variation and its sensitivity to daily melt are largest at the glacier terminus and decrease up-glacier, suggesting that the magnitude of the response is controlled not only by melt input volume and temporal variability, but also by background effective pressure, which approaches zero at the terminus. Our results provide evidence that basal lubrication by meltwater drives diurnal velocity variations at Greenland's marine-terminating glaciers in a similar manner to alpine glaciers and Greenland's land-terminating outlet glaciers.
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.
The stress balance within an ice shelf is key to the resistance, or buttressing, it can provide and in part controls the rate of ice discharge from the upstream ice sheet. Unconfined ice shelves are widely assumed to provide no buttressing. However, theory and laboratory-scale analogue experiments have shown that unconfined, floating viscous flows generate buttressing via hoop stresses. Hoop stress results from the viscous resistance to spreading perpendicular to the flow direction in a diverging flow. We build on theoretical work to explore the controls on the magnitude of hoop-stress buttressing, deducing that buttressing increases with increasing effective viscosity and increasing divergence. We use an idealised model calibrated to unconfined sections of Antarctic ice shelves and find that many shelves have low effective viscosity, most likely due to extensive damage resulting from high extensional stresses. Therefore, they are unable to sustain the large hoop stresses required to resist flow. Some ice shelves that are surrounded by sea ice year-round have a greater effective viscosity and can provide buttressing, suggesting that sea ice reduces fracturing. However, we find that most unconfined ice shelves provide insignificant buttressing today, even when hoop stresses are considered in the stress balance.
Mountain glaciers and ice sheets often host marginal and subglacial lakes that are hydraulically connected through subglacial drainage systems. These lakes exhibit complex dynamics that have been the subject of models for decades. Here we introduce and analyze a model for the evolution of glacial lakes connected by subglacial channels. Subglacial channel equations are supplied with effective pressure boundary conditions that are determined by a simple lake model. While the model can describe an arbitrary number of lakes, we solve it numerically with a finite element method for the case of two connected lakes. We examine the effect of relative lake size and spacing on the oscillations. Complex oscillations in the downstream lake are driven by discharge out of the upstream lake. These include multi-peaked and anti-phase filling–draining events. Similar filling–draining cycles have been observed on the Kennicott Glacier in Alaska and at the confluence of the Whillans and Mercer ice streams in West Antarctica. We further construct a simplified ordinary differential equation model that displays the same qualitative behavior as the full, spatially-dependent model. We analyze this model using dynamical systems theory to explain the appearance of filling–draining cycles as the meltwater supply varies.
In this paper we undertake a quantitative analysis of the dynamic process by which ice underneath a dry porous debris layer melts. We show that the incorporation of debris-layer airflow into a theoretical model of glacial melting can capture the empirically observed features of the so-called Østrem curve (a plot of the melt rate as a function of debris depth). Specifically, we show that the turning point in the Østrem curve can be caused by two distinct mechanisms: the increase in the proportion of ice that is debris-covered and/or a reduction in the evaporative heat flux as the debris layer thickens. This second effect causes an increased melt rate because the reduction in (latent) energy used for evaporation increases the amount of energy available for melting. Our model provides an explicit prediction for the melt rate and the temperature distribution within the debris layer, and provides insight into the relative importance of the two effects responsible for the maximum in the Østrem curve. We use the data of Nicholson and Benn (2006) to show that our model is consistent with existing empirical measurements.
We explore a mathematical model that couples together a thermomechanically evolving subglacial channel, distributed cavity drainage, and basal sliding along a subglacial flood path fed by a jökulhlaup lake. It allows water transfer between channel and cavities and a migrating subglacial water divide or ‘seal’ to form between floods. Notably, it accounts for full coupling between the lake and subglacial drainage in terms of both discharge and pressure, unlike models that neglect the pressure coupling by imposing a known history of lake discharge at the channel inlet. This means that flood hydrographic evolution and its impact on glacier motion are consistently determined by our model. Numerical simulations for a model alpine lake yield stable limit cycles simulating repeating jökulhlaups, with the channel drawing water from the cavities at a varying rate that modulates basal sliding during each flood. A wave of fast sliding propagates down-glacier at flood initiation, followed by deceleration as the growing channel sucks water from the cavities. These behaviours cannot be correctly simulated without the full coupling. We show that the flood’s peak discharge, its initiation threshold and the magnitude of the ‘fast sliding’ wave decrease with the background water supply to the cavities.
Glacier-dammed lakes can yield subglacial outburst floods (jökulhlaups) repeatedly. Predicting flood timing is crucial for hazard mitigation, but incomplete understanding of flood-initiation physics makes this challenging. Here we examine the predictability of the timing of jökulhlaups from Merzbacher Lake, Kyrgyzstan, using five flood-date prediction models of varying complexity. The simplest model, which offers a benchmark against which the other models are compared, assumes that floods occur on the same date each year. The other four models predict flood dates using a flood-initiation threshold approach and incorporate weather forcing (approximated by the output of two climate reanalyses) behind the meltwater input to the lake; the most complex of these models accounts for a moving subglacial water divide beneath the glacier that dams the lake. Each model is optimized against recorded flood dates to maximize its prediction ability. In terms of their flood prediction ability, our two best models are those that assume a variable outburst threshold governed by the rate of meltwater input to the lake and the rate of lake-level rise. They excel over the simplest and most complex models and correctly predict flood dates to within ±20 days 57.4% of the time. We also quantify the impact of weather uncertainty on prediction success. Our findings can inform practical flood-forecasting schemes and future investigations of flood-initiation physics.
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