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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2019-67
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2019-67
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 16 Apr 2019

Research article | 16 Apr 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal The Cryosphere (TC).

Past water flow beneath Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers, West Antarctica

James D. Kirkham1,2, Kelly A. Hogan2, Robert D. Larter2, Neil S. Arnold1, Frank O. Nitsche3, Nicholas R. Golledge4, and Julian A. Dowdeswell1 James D. Kirkham et al.
  • 1Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, Lensfield Road, Cambridge, CB2 1ER, UK
  • 2British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK
  • 3Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, P.O. Box 1000, Palisades, NY 10964-8000 USA
  • 4Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington 6140, New Zealand

Abstract. Outburst floods from subglacial lakes beneath the Antarctic Ice Sheet modulate ice flow velocities over periods of months to years. Although subglacial lake drainage events have been observed from satellite altimetric data, little is known about their role in the long term evolution of ice sheet basal hydrology. Here, we systematically map and model past water flow through an extensive area containing over 1000 subglacial channels and 19 former lake basins exposed on over 19,000 km2 of seafloor by the retreat of Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers, West Antarctica. At 560 m wide and 50 m deep on average, the channels offshore of present day Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers are approximately twice as deep, three times as wide, and cover an area over 400 times larger than the terrestrial meltwater channels comprising the Labyrinth in the Antarctic Dry Valleys. The channels incised into bedrock offshore of contemporary Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers would have been capable of accommodating discharges of up to 8.8 × 106 m3 s−1. We suggest that the channels were formed by episodic, high magnitude discharges from subglacial lakes trapped during ice sheet advance and retreat over multiple glacial periods. Our results document the widespread influence of episodic subglacial drainage events during past glacial periods, in particular beneath large ice streams similar to those that continue to dominate contemporary ice-sheet discharge.

James D. Kirkham et al.
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Short summary
A series of huge (500 m wide, 50 m deep) channels was eroded by water flowing beneath Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers in the past. The channels are similar to canyon systems produced by floods of meltwater released beneath the Antarctic Ice sheet millions of years ago. The spatial extent of the channels formed beneath Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers demonstrates that significant quantities of water, possibly discharged from trapped subglacial lakes, flowed beneath these glaciers in the past.
A series of huge (500 m wide, 50 m deep) channels was eroded by water flowing beneath Pine...
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