Episodic ice velocity fluctuations triggered by a subglacial flood in West Antarctica

Siegfried, MR, Fricker HA, Carter SP, Tulaczyk S.  2016.  Episodic ice velocity fluctuations triggered by a subglacial flood in West Antarctica. Geophysical Research Letters. 43:2640-2648.

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Antarctica, basal shear-stress, beneath, glacier, glaciology, ice dynamics, ice sheet, lakes, Sheet, stagnation, streams, subglacial, subglacial hydrology, system, water-piracy, whillans


Height change anomalies in satellite altimeter data have been interpreted as the surface expressions of basal water moving into and out of subglacial lakes. These signals have been mapped throughout Antarctica on timescales of months to years, but only broad connections have been made between active lakes and ice dynamics. We present the first high-frequency observations of ice velocity evolution due to a cascading subglacial lake drainage event, collected over 5years (2010-2015) using Global Positioning System data on Whillans and Mercer ice streams, West Antarctica. We observed three episodic ice velocity changes over 2years, where flow speed increased by up to 4%, as well as an 11month disruption of the tidally modulated stick-slip cycle that dominates regional ice motion. Our observations reveal that basal conditions of an Antarctic ice stream can rapidly evolve and drive a dynamic ice response on subannual timescales, which can bias observations used to infer long-term ice sheet changes.