Publications

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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.

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.