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Evidence from ice shelves for channelized meltwater flow beneath the Antarctic Ice Sheet

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Neil RossORCiD


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Meltwater generated beneath the Antarctic Ice Sheet exerts a strong influence on the speed of ice flow, in particular for major ice streams1, 2. The subglacial meltwater also influences ocean circulation beneath ice shelves, initiating meltwater plumes that entrain warmer ocean water and cause high rates of melting3. However, despite its importance, the nature of the hydrological system beneath the grounded ice sheet remains poorly characterized. Here we present evidence, from satellite and airborne remote sensing, for large channels beneath the floating Filchner–Ronne Ice Shelf in West Antarctica, which we propose provide a means for investigating the hydrological system beneath the grounded ice sheet. We observe features on the surface of the ice shelf from satellite imagery and, using radar measurements, show that they correspond with channels beneath the ice shelf. We also show that the sub-ice-shelf channels are aligned with locations where the outflow of subglacial meltwater has been predicted. This agreement indicates that the sub-ice-shelf channels are formed by meltwater plumes, initiated by subglacial water exiting the upstream grounded ice sheet in a focused (channelized) manner. The existence of a channelized hydrological system has implications for the behaviour and dynamics of ice sheets and ice shelves near the grounding lines of ice streams in Antarctica.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Le Brocq AM, Ross N, Griggs JA, Bingham RG, Corr HFJ, Ferraccioli F, Jenkins A, Jordan TA, Payne AJ, Rippin DM, Siegert MJ

Publication type: Letter

Publication status: Published

Journal: Nature Geoscience

Year: 2013

Volume: 6

Pages: 945-948

Print publication date: 06/10/2013

ISSN (print): 1752-0894

ISSN (electronic): 1752-0908


DOI: 10.1038/NGEO1977