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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.

Phillips, HA.  1998.  Surface meltstreams on the Amery Ice Shelf, East Antarctica. Annals of Glaciology, Vol 27, 1998. 27( Budd WF, Ed.).:177-181., Cambridge: Int Glaciological Soc Abstract

A topographic map of a 120 km by 20 km section of the Amery Ice Shelf, East Antarctica, mapped with the global positioning system (GPS) in the spring of 1995, revealed two long, shallow troughs in the ice-shelf surface. Smooth features coinciding with these troughs appeared in a synthetic aperture radar image acquired 18 months earlier. ERS-1 altimeter waveform sequences and backscatter measurements along repeat satellite ground tracks across the same section of the Amery Ice Shelf, for the 1993-94 summer, exhibited a dramatic change over a 2 km sector between 30 January and 2 February 1994. The change is consistent with the presence of liquid water on the ice-shelf surface, located in the deeper of the two troughs. A time series of special sensor microwave/ imager brightness temperatures over the Lambert Glacier-Amery Ice Shelf region for the same period has sharp maxima on 5 January and 21 January 1994. These maxima are interpreted as the melting events leading to the meltstream observed in the altimeter data 25 days later.

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.

Mikucki, JA, Lee PA, Ghosh D, Purcell AM, Mitchell AC, Mankoff KD, Fisher AT, Tulaczyk S, Carter S, Siegfried MR, Fricker HA, Hodson T, Coenen J, Powell R, Scherer R, Vick-Majors T, Achberger AA, Christner BC, Tranter M, Team WS.  2016.  Subglacial Lake Whillans microbial biogeochemistry: a synthesis of current knowledge. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society a-Mathematical Physical and Engineering Sciences. 374   10.1098/rsta.2014.0290   AbstractWebsite

Liquid water occurs below glaciers and ice sheets globally, enabling the existence of an array of aquatic microbial ecosystems. In Antarctica, large subglacial lakes are present beneath hundreds to thousands of metres of ice, and scientific interest in exploring these environments has escalated over the past decade. After years of planning, the first team of scientists and engineers cleanly accessed and retrieved pristine samples from a West Antarctic subglacial lake ecosystem in January 2013. This paper reviews the findings to date on Subglacial Lake Whillans and presents new supporting data on the carbon and energy metabolism of resident microbes. The analysis of water and sediments from the lake revealed a diverse microbial community composed of bacteria and archaea that are close relatives of species known to use reduced N, S or Fe and CH4 as energy sources. The water chemistry of Subglacial Lake Whillans was dominated by weathering products from silicate minerals with a minor influence from seawater. Contributions to water chemistry from microbial sulfide oxidation and carbonation reactions were supported by genomic data. Collectively, these results provide unequivocal evidence that subglacial environments in this region of West Antarctica host active microbial ecosystems that participate in subglacial biogeochemical cycling.

Walker, CC, Bassis JN, Fricker HA, Czerwinski RJ.  2013.  Structural and environmental controls on Antarctic ice shelf rift propagation inferred from satellite monitoring. Journal of Geophysical Research-Earth Surface. 118:2354-2364.   10.1002/2013jf002742   AbstractWebsite

Iceberg calving from ice shelves accounts for nearly half of the mass loss from the Antarctic Ice Sheet, yet our understanding of this process is limited. The precursor to iceberg calving is large through-cutting fractures, called rifts, that can propagate for decades after they have initiated until they become iceberg detachment boundaries. To improve our knowledge of rift propagation, we monitored the lengths of 78 rifts in 13 Antarctic ice shelves using satellite imagery from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer and Multiangle Imaging Spectroradiometer between 2002 and 2012. This data set allowed us to monitor trends in rift propagation over the past decade and test if variation in trends is controlled by variable environmental forcings. We found that 43 of the 78 rifts were dormant, i.e., propagated less than 500 m over the observational interval. We found only seven rifts propagated continuously throughout the decade. An additional eight rifts propagated for at least 2 years prior to arresting and remaining dormant for the rest of the decade, and 13 rifts exhibited isolated sudden bursts of propagation after 2 or more years of dormancy. Twelve of the fifteen active rifts were initiated at the ice shelf fronts, suggesting that front-initiated rifts are more active than across-flow rifts. Although we did not find a link between the observed variability in rift propagation rate and changes in atmospheric temperature or sea ice concentration correlated with, we did find a statistically significant correlation between the arrival of tsunamis and propagation of front-initiated rifts in eight ice shelves. This suggests a connection between ice shelf rift propagation and mechanical ocean interaction that needs to be better understood.

Holt, TO, Glasser NF, Fricker HA, Padman L, Luckman A, King O, Quincey DJ, Siegfried MR.  2014.  The structural and dynamic responses of Stange Ice Shelf to recent environmental change. Antarctic Science. 26:646-660.   10.1017/s095410201400039x   AbstractWebsite

Stange Ice Shelf is the most south-westerly ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula, a region where positive trends in atmospheric and oceanic temperatures have been recently documented. In this paper, we use a range of remotely sensed datasets to evaluate the structural and dynamic responses of Stange Ice Shelf to these environmental changes. Ice shelf extent and surface structures were examined at regular intervals from optical and radar satellite imagery between 1973 and 2011. Surface speeds were estimated in 1989, 2004 and 2010 by tracking surface features in successive satellite images. Surface elevation change was estimated using radar altimetry data acquired between 1992 and 2008 by the European Remote Sensing Satellite (ERS) -1, -2 and Envisat. The mean number of surface melt days was estimated using the intensity of backscatter from Envisat's Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar instrument between 2006 and 2012. These results show significant shear fracturing in the southern portion of the ice shelf linked to enhanced flow speed as a consequence of measured thinning. However, we conclude that, despite the observed changes, Stange Ice Shelf is currently stable.

Fricker, HA, Powell R, Priscu J, Tulaczyk S, Anandakrishnan S, Christner B, Fisher AT, Holland D, Horgan H, Jacobel R, Mikucki J, Mitchell A, Scherer R, Severinghaus J.  2011.  Siple Coast subglacial aquatic environments; the Whillans ice stream subglacial access research drilling project. Geophysical Monograph. 192:199-219.   10.1029/2010gm000932   AbstractWebsite

The Whillians Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) project is a 6-year (2009-2015) integrative study of ice sheet stability and subglacial geobiology in West Antarctica, funded by the Antarctic Integrated System Science Program of National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs, Antarctic Division. The overarching scientific objective of WISSARD is to assess the role of water beneath a West Antarctic Ice Stream in interlinked glaciological, geological, microbiological, geochemical, hydrological, and oceanographic systems. The WISSARD's important science questions relate to (1) the role that subglacial and ice shelf cavity waters and wet sediments play in ice stream dynamics and mass balance, with an eye on the possible future of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and (2) the microbial metabolic and phylogenetic diversity in these subglacial environments. The study area is the downstream part of the Whillans Ice Stream on the Siple Coast, specifically Subglacial Lake Whillans and the part of the grounding zone across which it drains. In this chapter, we provide background on the motivation for the WISSARD project, detail the key scientific goals, and describe the new measurement tools and strategies under development that will provide the framework for conducting an unprecedented range of scientific observations.

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.

Chen, X, Shearer PM, Walter F, Fricker HA.  2011.  Seventeen Antarctic seismic events detected by global surface waves and a possible link to calving events from satellite images. Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth. 116   10.1029/2011jb008262   AbstractWebsite

We detect 17 seismic events in Antarctica from 1997 to 2009 by applying a surface wave detector to global seismic data. We locate these events using a waveform cross-correlation method and find that most occurred near the coast of Antarctica and are clustered in three regions: four events are on the Ronne Ice Shelf, close to the location of a 1998 calving event; five events are near the Vanderford Glacier; and eight events are near the Ninnis Glacier. The observed Rayleigh and Love waves for these events have similar amplitudes and a two-lobed radiation pattern, matching the expected amplitude behavior of a single-force source model. Using such a model, we obtain best fitting horizontal force directions for the 14 events that have relatively better signal-to-noise ratios. Analysis of coastline changes from MODIS images before and after the detected events show that two events on Vanderford Glacier and one event near Ninnis Glacier are likely associated with calving events. Moreover, the inferred force directions for the seismic events appear consistent with local ice flow directions. Both satellite observations and modeling results strongly suggest a link between seismic events and calving processes in the two regions. However, the force directions on the Ronne Ice Shelf are aligned with observed rift propagation directions, suggesting that these events may arise from rifting processes.

Heeszel, DS, Fricker HA, Bassis JN, O'Neel S, Walter F.  2014.  Seismicity within a propagating ice shelf rift: The relationship between icequake locations and ice shelf structure. Journal of Geophysical Research-Earth Surface. 119:731-744.   10.1002/2013jf002849   AbstractWebsite

Iceberg calving is a dominant mass loss mechanism for Antarctic ice shelves, second only to basal melting. An important process involved in calving is the initiation and propagation of through-penetrating fractures called rifts; however, the mechanisms controlling rift propagation remain poorly understood. To investigate the mechanics of ice shelf rifting, we analyzed seismicity associated with a propagating rift tip on the Amery Ice Shelf, using data collected during the austral summers of 2004-2007. We apply a suite of passive seismological techniques including icequake locations, back projection, and moment tensor inversion. We confirm previous results that show ice shelf rifting is characterized by periods of relative quiescence punctuated by swarms of intense seismicity of 1 to 3 h. Even during periods of quiescence, we find significant deformation around the rift tip. Moment tensors, calculated for a subset of the largest icequakes (M-w>-2.0) located near the rift tip, show steeply dipping fault planes, horizontal or shallowly plunging stress orientations, and often have a significant volumetric component. They also reveal that much of the observed seismicity is limited to the upper 50 m of the ice shelf. This suggests a complex system of deformation that involves the propagating rift, the region behind the rift tip, and a system of rift-transverse crevasses. Small-scale variations in the mechanical structure of the ice shelf, especially rift-transverse crevasses and accreted marine ice, play an important role in modulating the rate and location of seismicity associated with the propagating ice shelf rifts.

Bassis, JN, Fricker HA, Coleman R, Bock Y, Behrens J, Darnell D, Okal M, Minster JB.  2007.  Seismicity and deformation associated with ice-shelf rift propagation. Journal of Glaciology. 53:523-536.   10.3189/002214307784409207   AbstractWebsite

Previous observations have shown that rift propagation on the Amery Ice Shelf (AIS), East Antarctica, is episodic, occurring in bursts of several hours with typical recurrence times of several weeks. Propagation events were deduced from seismic swarms (detected with seismometers) concurrent with rapid rift widening (detected with GPS receivers). In this study, we extend these results by deploying seismometers and GPS receivers in a dense network around the tip of a propagating rift on the AIS over three field seasons (2002/03, 2004/05 and 2005/06). The pattern of seismic event locations shows that icequakes cluster along the rift axis, extending several kilometers back from where the rift tip was visible in the field. Patterns of icequake event locations also appear aligned with the ice-shelf flow direction, along transverse-to-rift crevasses. However, we found some key differences in the seismicity between field seasons. Both the number of swarms and the number of events within each swarm decreased during the final field season. The timing of the slowdown closely corresponds to the rift tip entering a suture zone, formed where two ice streams merge upstream. Beneath the suture zone lies a thick band of marine ice. We propose two hypotheses for the observed slowdown: (1) defects within the ice in the suture zone cause a reduction in stress concentration ahead of the rift tip; (2) increased marine ice thickness in the rift path slows propagation. We show that the size-frequency distribution of icequakes approximately follows a power law, similar to the well-known Gutenberg-Richter law for earthquakes. However, large icequakes are not preceded by foreshocks nor are they followed by aftershocks. Thus rift-related seismicity differs from the classic foreshock and aftershock distribution that is characteristic of large earth quakes.

Damsgaard, A, Suckale J, Piotrowski JA, Houssais M, Siegfried MR, Fricker HA.  2017.  Sediment behavior controls equilibrium width of subglacial channels. Journal of Glaciology. 63:1034-1048.   10.1017/jog.2017.71   AbstractWebsite

Flow-frictional resistance at the base of glaciers and ice sheets is strongly linked to subglacial water pressure. Understanding the physical mechanisms that govern meltwater fluxes in subglacial channels is hence critical for constraining variations in ice flow. Previous mathematical descriptions of soft-bed subglacial channels assume a viscous till rheology, which is inconsistent with laboratory data and the majority of field studies. Here, we use a grain-scale numerical formulation coupled to pore-water dynamics to analyze the structural stability of channels carved into soft beds. Contrary to the soft-bed channel models assuming viscous till rheology, we show that the flanks of till channels can support substantial ice loads without creep closure of the channel, because the sediment has finite frictional strength. Increased normal stress on the channel flanks causes plastic failure of the sediment, and the channel rapidly shrinks to increase the ice-bed contact area. We derive a new parameterization for subglacial channelized flow on soft beds and show that channel dynamics are dominated by fluvial erosion and deposition processes with thresholds linked to the plastic rheology of subglacial tills. We infer that the described limits to channel size may cause subglacial drainage to arrange in networks of multiple closely spaced channels.