Publications

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2018
Minchew, BM, Gudmundsson GH, Gardner AS, Paolo FS, Fricker HA.  2018.  Modeling the dynamic response of outlet glaciers to observed ice-shelf thinning in the Bellingshausen Sea Sector, West Antarctica. Journal of Glaciology. 64:333-342.   10.1017/jog.2018.24   AbstractWebsite

Satellite observations of gravity anomalies, ice-surface elevation and glacier velocity show significant increases in net grounded-ice-mass loss over the past decade along the Bellingshausen Sea sector (BSS), West Antarctica, in areas where warm (> 1 degrees C) sea water floods the continental shelf. These observations provide compelling but indirect evidence that mass losses are driven primarily by reduced buttressing from the floating ice shelves caused by ocean-driven ice-shelf thinning. Here, we combine recent observations of ice velocity, thickness and thickness changes with an ice flow model to study the instantaneous dynamic response of BSS outlet glaciers to observed ice-shelf thinning, alone. Our model results show that multiple BSS outlet glaciers respond instantaneously to observed ice-shelf thinning, particularly in areas where ice shelves ground at discrete points. Increases in modeled and observed dynamic mass losses, however, account for similar to 5% of the mass loss rates estimated from gravity anomalies and changes in ice-surface elevation, suggesting that variations in surface mass balance may be key to understanding recent BSS mass loss. Our approach isolates the impact of ice-shelf thinning on glacier flow and shows that if ice-shelf thinning continues at or above current rates, total BSS mass loss will increase in the next decade.

2014
Tulaczyk, S, Mikucki JA, Siegfried MR, Priscu JC, Barcheck CG, Beem LH, Behar A, Burnett J, Christner BC, Fisher AT, Fricker HA, Mankoff KD, Powell RD, Rack F, Sampson D, Scherer RP, Schwartz SY, Wissard Sci T.  2014.  WISSARD at Subglacial Lake Whillans, West Antarctica: scientific operations and initial observations. Annals of Glaciology. 55:51-58.   10.3189/2014AoG65A009   AbstractWebsite

A clean hot-water drill was used to gain access to Subglacial Lake Whillans (SLW) in late January 2013 as part of the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) project. Over 3 days, we deployed an array of scientific tools through the SLW borehole: a downhole camera, a conductivity-temperature-depth (CTD) probe, a Niskin water sampler, an in situ filtration unit, three different sediment corers, a geothermal probe and a geophysical sensor string. Our observations confirm the existence of a subglacial water reservoir whose presence was previously inferred from satellite altimetry and surface geophysics. Subglacial water is about two orders of magnitude less saline than sea water (0.37-0.41 psu vs 35 psu) and two orders of magnitude more saline than pure drill meltwater (<0.002 psu). It reaches a minimum temperature of -0.55 degrees C, consistent with depression of the freezing point by 7.019 MPa of water pressure. Subglacial water was turbid and remained turbid following filtration through 0.45 mu m filters. The recovered sediment cores, which sampled down to 0.8 m below the lake bottom, contained a macroscopically structureless diamicton with shear strength between 2 and 6 kPa. Our main operational recommendation for future subglacial access through water-filled boreholes is to supply enough heat to the top of the borehole to keep it from freezing.

2009
Fricker, HA, Scambos T.  2009.  Connected subglacial lake activity on lower Mercer and Whillans Ice Streams, West Antarctica, 2003-2008. Journal of Glaciology. 55:303-315. AbstractWebsite

We examine patterns of localized surface elevation change in lower Mercer and Whillans Ice Streams, West Antarctica, which we interpret as subglacial water movement through a system of lakes and channels. We detect and measure the lake activity using repeat-track laser altimetry from ICESat and image differencing from MODIS image pairs. A hydrostatic-potential map for the region shows that the lakes are distributed across three distinct hydrologic regimes. Our analysis shows that, within these regimes, some of the subglacial lakes appear to be linked, with drainage events in one reservoir causing filling and follow-on drainage in adjacent lakes. We also observe changes near ice raft 'a' in lower Whillans Ice Stream, and interpret them as evidence of subglacial water and other changes at the bed. The study provides quantitative information about the properties of this complex subglacial hydrologic system, and a relatively unstudied component of ice-sheet mass balance: subglacial drainage across the grounding line.

2007
Fricker, HA, Scambos T, Bindschadler R, Padman L.  2007.  An active subglacial water system in West Antarctica mapped from space. Science. 315:1544-1548.   10.1126/science.1136897   AbstractWebsite

Satellite laser altimeter elevation profiles from 2003 to 2006 collected over the lower parts of Whillans and Mercer ice streams, West Antarctica, reveal 14 regions of temporally varying elevation, which we interpret as the surface expression of subglacial water movement. Vertical motion and spatial extent of two of the largest regions are confirmed by satellite image differencing. A major, previously unknown subglacial lake near the grounding line of Whillans Ice Stream is observed to drain 2.0 cubic kilometers of water into the ocean over similar to 3 years, while elsewhere a similar volume of water is being stored subglacially. These observations reveal a widespread, dynamic subglacial water system that may exert an important control on ice flow and mass balance.