Subglacial Lakes and the Onset of Ice Streaming: Recovery Lakes
This award support a project to study the role that subglacial water plays in the overall stability of major ice sheets. An estimated 22,000 km3 of water is currently stored within Antarctica's subglacial lakes. Movement of this water occurs through a complex and largely inferred drainage system in both East and West Antarctica. Geomorphic evidence for the catastrophic drainage of subglacial lakes documents repeated events. These major flood events appear to have drained the largest subglacial lakes situated in the relatively stable interior of the East Antarctic ice sheet. Emerging evidence suggests there is a close connection between significant subglacial lakes and the onset of the Recovery Ice Stream one of the largest in East Antarctica. Our preliminary analysis of the Recovery Lakes region, East Antarctica suggests a direct linkage between lakes and streaming ice flow, specifically the 800 km long Recovery Ice Stream and its tributaries. Located just upslope of the Recovery Ice Stream, the Recovery Lakes Region is composed of 3 well-defined lakes and a fourth, ambiguous, 'lake-like' feature. While other large lakes have a localized impact on ice surface slope, the Recovery Lakes Region lakes are coincident with an abrupt regional change in the ice sheet surface slope. Satellite imagery demonstrates that the downslope margin of this lake area contains distinct flow strips and crevasses: both indicative of increasing ice velocities. The discovery of a series of large lakes coincident with the onset of rapid ice flow in East Antarctica clearly links subglacial lakes and ice sheet dynamics for the first time. The evidence linking the onset of streaming in the Recovery Drainage Ice Stream to the series of large subglacial lakes raises the fundamental question: How can subglacial lakes trigger the onset of ice streaming? We advance two possible mechanisms: (i) Subglacial lakes can produce accelerated ice flow through the drainage of lake water beneath the ice sheet downslope of the lakes. (ii) Subglacial lakes can produce accelerated ice flow accelerated ice flow by modifying the basal thermal gradient via basal accretion over the lakes so when the ice sheet regrounds basal melting dominates. To evaluate the contribution of lake water and the changing basal thermal gradient, we propose an integrated program incorporating satellite imagery analysis, a series of reconnaissance aerogeophysical profiles over the Recovery Lake Region and the installation of continuous GPS sites over the Recovery Lakes. This analysis and new data will enable us (1) to produce a velocity field over the Recovery Lakes Region, (2) to map the ice thickness changes over the lakes due to acceleration triggered thinning, basal melting and freezing, (3) determine the depth and possible the tectonic origin of the Recovery Lakes and (4) determine the stability of these lakes over time. These basic data sets will enable us to advance our understanding of how subglacial lakes trigger the onset of streaming. The intellectual merit of this project is that it will be the first systematic analysis of ice streams triggering the onset of ice streams. This work has profound implications for the modeling of ice sheet behavior in the future, the geologic record of abrupt climate changes and the longevity of subglacial lakes. The broader impacts of the project are programs that will reach students of all ages through undergraduates involved in the research, formal presentations in teacher education programs and ongoing public outreach efforts at major science museums. Subglacial Antarctic lake environments are emerging as a premier, major frontier for exploration during the IPY 2007-2009.
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