Anatomy of a meltwater drainage system beneath the ancestral East Antarctic ice sheet

Lauren M. Simkins, John B. Anderson, Sarah L. Greenwood, Helge M. Gonnermann, Lindsay O. Prothro, Anna Ruth W. Halberstadt, Leigh A. Stearns, David Pollard, Robert M. DeConto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

26 Scopus citations

Abstract

Subglacial hydrology is critical to understand the behaviour of ice sheets, yet active meltwater drainage beneath contemporary ice sheets is rarely accessible to direct observation. Using geophysical and sedimentological data from the deglaciated western Ross Sea, we identify a palaeo-subglacial hydrological system active beneath an area formerly covered by the East Antarctic ice sheet. A long channel network repeatedly delivered meltwater to an ice stream grounding line and was a persistent pathway for episodic meltwater drainage events. Embayments within grounding-line landforms coincide with the location of subglacial channels, marking reduced sedimentation and restricted landform growth. Consequently, channelized drainage at the grounding line influenced the degree to which these landforms could provide stability feedbacks to the ice stream. The channel network was connected to upstream subglacial lakes in an area of geologically recent rifting and volcanism, where elevated heat flux would have produced sufficient basal melting to fill the lakes over decades to several centuries; this timescale is consistent with our estimates of the frequency of drainage events at the retreating grounding line. Based on these data, we hypothesize that ice stream dynamics in this region were sensitive to the underlying hydrological system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)691-697
Number of pages7
JournalNature Geoscience
Volume10
Issue number9
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

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    Simkins, L. M., Anderson, J. B., Greenwood, S. L., Gonnermann, H. M., Prothro, L. O., Halberstadt, A. R. W., Stearns, L. A., Pollard, D., & DeConto, R. M. (2017). Anatomy of a meltwater drainage system beneath the ancestral East Antarctic ice sheet. Nature Geoscience, 10(9), 691-697. https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo3012