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Subglacial lakes and hydrology across the Ellsworth Subglacial Highlands, West Antarctica

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Neil RossORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Subglacial water plays an important role in ice sheet dynamics and stability. Subglacial lakes are often located at the onset of ice streams and have been hypothesised to enhance ice flow downstream by lubricating the ice–bed interface. The most recent subglacial-lake inventory of Antarctica mapped nearly 400 lakes, of which ∼ 14 % are found in West Antarctica. Despite the potential importance of subglacial water for ice dynamics, there is a lack of detailed subglacial-water characterisation in West Antarctica. Using radio-echo sounding data, we analyse the ice–bed interface to detect subglacial lakes. We report 33 previously uncharted subglacial lakes and present a systematic analysis of their physical properties. This represents a ∼ 40 % increase in subglacial lakes in West Antarctica. Additionally, a new digital elevation model of basal topography of the Ellsworth Subglacial Highlands was built and used to create a hydropotential model to simulate the subglacial hydrological network. This allows us to characterise basal hydrology, determine subglacial water catchments and assess their connectivity. We show that the simulated subglacial hydrological catchments of the Rutford Ice Stream, Pine Island Glacier and Thwaites Glacier do not correspond to their ice surface catchments.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Napoleoni F, Jamieson SSR, Ross N, Bentley MJ, Rivera A, Smith AM, Siegert MJ, Paxman GJG, Gacitua G, Uribe JA, Zamora R, Brisbourne AM, Vaughan DG

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: The Cryosphere

Year: 2020

Volume: 14

Pages: 4507–4524

Print publication date: 10/12/2020

Online publication date: 10/12/2020

Acceptance date: 25/09/2020

Date deposited: 15/03/2021

ISSN (print): 1994-0416

ISSN (electronic): 1994-0424

Publisher: Copernicus GmbH


DOI: 10.5194/tc-14-4507-2020


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