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Antarctic basal environment shaped by high-pressure flow through a subglacial river system

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Neil RossORCiD

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Abstract

The stability of ice sheets and their contributions to sea level are modulatedby high-pressure water that lubricates the base of the ice, facilitatingrapid flow into the ocean. In Antarctica, subglacial processes are poorlycharacterized, limiting understanding of ice-sheet flow and its sensitivity toclimate forcing. Here, using numerical modelling and geophysical data, weprovide evidence of extensive, up to 460 km long, dendritically organizedsubglacial hydrological systems that stretch from the ice-sheet interiorto the grounded margin. We show that these channels transport largefluxes (~24 m3 s−1) of freshwater at high pressure, potentially facilitatingenhanced ice flow above. The water exits the ice sheet at specific locations,appearing to drive ice-shelf melting in these areas critical for ice-sheetstability. Changes in subglacial channel size can affect the water depth andpressure of the surrounding drainage system up to 100 km either side of theprimary channel. Our results demonstrate the importance of incorporatingcatchment-scale basal hydrology in calculations of ice-sheet flow and inassessments of ice-shelf melt at grounding zones. Thus, understandinghow marginal regions of Antarctica operate, and may change in the future,requires knowledge of processes acting within, and initiating from, theice-sheet interior.


Publication metadata

Author(s): Dow CF, Ross N, Jeofry H, Siu K, Siegert M

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Nature Geoscience

Year: 2022

Volume: 15

Pages: 892-898

Print publication date: 01/11/2022

Online publication date: 27/10/2022

Acceptance date: 23/09/2022

ISSN (print): 1752-0894

ISSN (electronic): 1752-0908

Publisher: Springer Nature

URL: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-022-01059-1

DOI: 10.1038/s41561-022-01059-1


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