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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 24 Jul 2019

Submitted as: research article | 24 Jul 2019

Review status
A revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

On the possibility of a long subglacial river under the north Greenland ice sheet

Christopher Chambers1, Ralf Greve1, Bas Altena2, and Pierre-Marie Lefeuvre2 Christopher Chambers et al.
  • 1Institute of Low Temperature Science, Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan
  • 2Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo, Norway

Abstract. Does a long subglacial river with a source deep in the interior of the Greenland ice sheet, drain into the sea at the Petermann Glacier grounding line? Basal topographic data shows a segmented valley extending from Petermann Fjord into the centre of Greenland, however the locations of radar scan lines, used to create the bedrock topography data, indicate that valley discontinuity is due to data interpolation. Simulations where the valley is opened are used to investigate effects on basal water and ice sheet sliding. The simulations indicate that the opening of this valley results in an uninterrupted water pathway from the interior along the valley that alters ice sheet sliding in the Petermann catchment and in areas of west Greenland. Along its length, the path of the valley progresses gradually down an ice surface slope causing a lowering of ice overburden pressure that could enable water flow along its path. The fact that the valley base appears to be relatively flat and follows a path along the interior ice divide that intersects the east and west basal hydrological basins, is presented as evidence that its present day form developed as a consequence of the overlying ice sheet rather than prior to ice sheet inception. Though considerable uncertainty remains, the results are consistent with a present day active long subglacial river system. The results raise issues concerning the need to better observe, understand, and simulate the complicated basal hydrology of the Greenland and other ice sheets.

Christopher Chambers et al.

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Christopher Chambers et al.

Christopher Chambers et al.


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Latest update: 27 Feb 2020
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
The topography of the rock below the Greenland ice sheet is not well known. One long valley appears as a line of dips but reliable data suggests it runs uninterrupted. Ice model simulations that unblock this valley create a watercourse that may represent a river over 1600 km long under the ice. Sliding of the ice also changes in certain regions suggesting that the correct depiction of other rivers under Earth's ice sheets may affect climate change ice loss predictions.
The topography of the rock below the Greenland ice sheet is not well known. One long valley...