Publications

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2018
Paolo, FS, Padman L, Fricker HA, Adusumilli S, Howard S, Siegfried MR.  2018.  Response of Pacific-sector Antarctic ice shelves to the El Nino/Southern Oscillation. Nature Geoscience. 11:121-+.   10.1038/s41561-017-0033-0   AbstractWebsite

Satellite observations over the past two decades have revealed increasing loss of grounded ice in West Antarctica, associated with floating ice shelves that have been thinning. Thinning reduces an ice shelf's ability to restrain grounded-ice discharge, yet our understanding of the climate processes that drive mass changes is limited. Here, we use ice-shelf height data from four satellite altimeter missions (1994-2017) to show a direct link between ice-shelf height variability in the Antarctic Pacific sector and changes in regional atmospheric circulation driven by the El Nino/Southern Oscillation. This link is strongest from the Dotson to Ross ice shelves and weaker elsewhere. During intense El Nino years, height increase by accumulation exceeds the height decrease by basal melting, but net ice-shelf mass declines as basal ice loss exceeds ice gain by lower-density snow. Our results demonstrate a substantial response of Amundsen Sea ice shelves to global and regional climate variability, with rates of change in height and mass on interannual timescales that can be comparable to the longer-term trend, and with mass changes from surface accumulation offsetting a significant fraction of the changes in basal melting. This implies that ice-shelf height and mass variability will increase as interannual atmospheric variability increases in a warming climate.

2015
Bougamont, M, Christoffersen P, Price SF, Fricker HA, Tulaczyk S, Carter SP.  2015.  Reactivation of Kamb Ice Stream tributaries triggers century-scale reorganization of Siple Coast ice flow in West Antarctica. Geophysical Research Letters. 42:8471-8480.   10.1002/2015gl065782   AbstractWebsite

Ongoing, centennial-scale flow variability within the Ross ice streams of West Antarctica suggests that the present-day positive mass balance in this region may reverse in the future. Here we use a three-dimensional ice sheet model to simulate ice flow in this region over 250years. The flow responds to changing basal properties, as a subglacial till layer interacts with water transported in an active subglacial hydrological system. We show that a persistent weak bed beneath the tributaries of the dormant Kamb Ice Stream is a source of internal ice flow instability, which reorganizes all ice streams in this region, leading to a reduced (positive) mass balance within decades and a net loss of ice within two centuries. This hitherto unaccounted for flow variability could raise sea level by 5mm this century. Better constraints on future sea level change from this region will require improved estimates of geothermal heat flux and subglacial water transport.

2014
Christoffersen, P, Bougamont M, Carter SP, Fricker HA, Tulaczyk S.  2014.  Significant groundwater contribution to Antarctic ice streams hydrologic budget. Geophysical Research Letters. 41:2003-2010.   10.1002/2014gl059250   AbstractWebsite

Satellite observations have revealed active hydrologic systems beneath Antarctic ice streams, but sources and sinks of water within these systems are uncertain. Here we use numerical simulations of ice streams to estimate the generation, flux, and budget of water beneath five ice streams on the Siple Coast. We estimate that 47% of the total hydrologic input (0.98km(3)yr(-1)) to Whillans (WIS), Mercer (MIS), and Kamb (KIS) ice streams comes from the ice sheet interior and that only 8% forms by local basal melting. The remaining 45% comes from a groundwater reservoir, an overlooked source in which depletion significantly exceeds recharge. Of the total input to Bindschadler (BIS) and MacAyeal (MacIS) ice streams (0.56km(3)yr(-1)), 72% comes from the interior, 19% from groundwater, and 9% from local melting. This contrasting hydrologic setting modulates the ice streams flow and has important implications for the search for life in subglacial lakes.

2013
Carter, SP, Fricker HA, Siegfried MR.  2013.  Evidence of rapid subglacial water piracy under Whillans Ice Stream, West Antarctica. Journal of Glaciology. 59:1147-1162.   10.3189/2013JoG13J085   AbstractWebsite

The subglacial water system of lower Whillans Ice Stream on the Sip le Coast, West Antarctica, contains numerous connected subglacial lakes in three hydrological basins (northern, central and southern). We use Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) data to derive estimates of lake volume change and regional thickness changes. By combining these results with a water budget model, we show that a uniform, localized thickness increase perturbed the hydropotential, resulting in a change in course of a major flow path within the system in 2005. Water originating from upper Whillans and Kamb Ice Streams that previously supplied the southern basin became diverted toward Subglacial Lake Whillans (SLW). This diversion led to a tenfold filling rate increase of SLW. Our observation suggests that water piracy may be common in the Sip le Coast region, where the gentle basal relief makes the basal hydropotential particularly sensitive to small changes in ice thickness. Given the previously inferred connections between water piracy and ice-stream slowdown elsewhere in the region, the subtle and complex nature of this system presents new challenges for numerical models.

2012
Carter, SP, Fricker HA.  2012.  The supply of subglacial meltwater to the grounding line of the Sip le Coast, West Antarctica. Annals of Glaciology. 53:267-280.   10.3189/2012AoG60A119   AbstractWebsite

Recent satellite studies have shown that active subglacial lakes exist under the Antarctic ice streams and persist almost to their grounding lines. When the lowest-lying lakes flood, the water crosses the grounding line and enters the sub-ice-shelf cavity. Modeling results suggest that this additional freshwater influx may significantly enhance melting at the ice-shelf base. We examine the spatial and temporal variability in subglacial water supply to the grounding lines of the Sip le Coast ice streams, by combining estimates for lake volume change derived from Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) data with a model for subglacial water transport. Our results suggest that subglacial outflow tends to concentrate towards six embayments in the Sip le Coast grounding line. Although mean grounding line outflow is similar to 60 m(3) s(-1) for the entire Sip le Coast, maximum local grounding line outflow may temporarily exceed 300 m(3) s(-1) during the synchronized flooding of multiple lakes in a hydrologic basin. Variability in subglacial outflow due to subglacial lake drainage may account for a substantial portion of the observed variability in freshwater flux out of the Ross Ice Shelf cavity. The temporal variability in grounding line outflow results in a net reduction in long-term average melt rate, but temporary peak melting rates may exceed the long-term average by a factor of three.

2010
Brunt, KM, Fricker HA, Padman L, Scambos TA, O'Neel S.  2010.  Mapping the grounding zone of the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica, using ICESat laser altimetry. Annals of Glaciology. 51:71-79. AbstractWebsite

We use laser altimetry from the Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) to map the grounding zone (CZ) of the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica, at 491 locations where ICESat tracks cross the grounding line (GL). Ice flexure in the GZ occurs as the ice shelf responds to short-term sea-level changes due primarily to tides. ICESat repeat-track analysis can be used to detect this region of flexure since each repeated pass is acquired at a different tidal phase; the technique provides estimates for both the landward limit of flexure and the point where the ice becomes hydrostatically balanced. We find that the ICESat-derived landward limits of tidal flexure are, in many places, offset by several km (and up to similar to 60 km) from the GL mapped previously using other satellite methods. We discuss the reasons why different mapping methods lead to different GL estimates, including: instrument limitations; variability in the surface topographic structure of the GZ; and the presence of ice plains. We conclude that reliable and accurate mapping of the GL is most likely to be achieved when based on synthesis of several satellite datasets.

Fricker, HA, Scambos T, Carter S, Davis C, Haran T, Joughin I.  2010.  Synthesizing multiple remote-sensing techniques for subglacial hydrologic mapping: application to a lake system beneath MacAyeal Ice Stream, West Antarctica. Journal of Glaciology. 56:187-199. AbstractWebsite

We present an analysis of the active hydrologic system of MacAyeal Ice Stream (MacIS), West Antarctica, from a synthesis of multiple remote-sensing techniques: satellite laser altimetry; satellite image differencing; and hydrologic potential mapping (using a satellite-derived DEM and a bedrock DEM from airborne radio-echo sounding). Combining these techniques augments the information provided by each one individually, and allows us to develop a protocol for studying subglacial hydrologic systems in a holistic manner. Our study reveals five large active subglacial lakes under MacIS, the largest of which undergoes volume changes of at least 1.0 km(3). We discuss the hydrologic properties of this system and present evidence for links between the lakes. At least three of the lakes are co-located with sticky spots, i.e. regions of high local basal shear stress. We also find evidence for surface elevation changes due to ice-dynamic effects (not just water movement) caused by changes in basal resistance. Lastly, we show that satellite radar altimetry is of limited use for monitoring lake activity on fast-flowing ice streams with surfaces that undulate on similar to 10 km length scales.

2009
Fricker, HA, Coleman R, Padman L, Scambos TA, Bohlander J, Brunt KM.  2009.  Mapping the grounding zone of the Amery Ice Shelf, East Antarctica using InSAR, MODIS and ICESat. Antarctic Science. 21:515-532.   10.1017/s095410200999023x   AbstractWebsite

We use a combination of satellite techniques (interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR), visible-band imagery, and repeat-track laser altimetry) to develop a benchmark map for the Amery Ice Shelf (AIS) grounding zone (GZ), including its islands and ice rises. The break-in-slope, as an indirect estimate of grounding line location, was mapped for the entire AIS. We have also mapped similar to 55% of the landward edge and similar to 30% of the seaward edge of the ice shelf flexure boundary for the AIS perimeter. Vertical ice motion from Global Positioning System receivers confirms the location of the satellite-derived GZ in two regions. Our map redefines the extent of floating ice in the south-western AIS and identifies several previously unmapped grounded regions, improving our understanding of the stresses supporting the current dynamical state of the ice shelf. Finally, we identify three along-flow channels in the ice shelf basal topography, approximately 10 km apart, 1.5 km wide and 300-500 m deep, near the southern GZ. These channels, which form at the suture zones between ice streams, may represent zones of potential weakness in the ice shelf and may influence sub-ice-shelf ocean circulation.

Smith, BE, Fricker HA, Joughin IR, Tulaczyk S.  2009.  An inventory of active subglacial lakes in Antarctica detected by ICESat (2003-2008). Journal of Glaciology. 55:573-595. AbstractWebsite

Through the detection of surface deformation in response to water movement, recent satellite studies have demonstrated the existence of subglacial lakes in Antarctica that fill and drain on timescales of months to years. These studies, however, were confined to specific regions of the ice sheet. Here we present the first comprehensive study of these 'active' lakes for the Antarctic ice sheet north of 86 degrees S, based on 4.5 years (2003-08) of NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) laser altimeter data. Our analysis has detected 124 lakes that were active during this period, and we estimate volume changes for each lake. The ICESat-detected lakes are prevalent in coastal Antarctica, and are present under most of the largest ice-stream catchments. Lakes sometimes appear to transfer water from one to another, but also often exchange water with distributed sources undetectable by ICESat, suggesting that the lakes may provide water to or withdraw water from the hydrologic systems that lubricate glacier flow. Thus, these reservoirs may contribute pulses of water to produce rapid temporal changes in glacier speeds, but also may withdraw water at other times to slow flow.