Antarctic subglacial groundwater: a concept paper on its measurement and potential influence on ice flow

Is groundwater abundant in Antarctica and does it modulate ice flow? Answering this question matters because ice streams flow by gliding over a wet substrate of till. Water fed to ice-stream beds thus influences ice-sheet dynamics and, potentially, sea-level rise. It is recognized that both till and the sedimentary basins from which it originates are porous and could host a reservoir of mobile groundwater that interacts with the subglacial interfacial system. According to recent numerical modelling, up to half of all water available for basal lubrication, and time lags between hydrological forcing and ice-sheet response as long as millennia, may have been overlooked in models of ice flow. Here, we review evidence in support of Antarctic groundwater and propose how it can be measured to ascertain the extent to which it modulates ice flow. We present new seismoelectric soundings of subglacial till, and magnetotelluric and transient electromagnetic forward models of subglacial groundwater reservoirs. We demonstrate that multifaceted and integrated geophysical datasets can detect, delineate and quantify the groundwater contents of subglacial sedimentary basins and, potentially, monitor groundwater exchange rates between subglacial till layers. The paper thus describes a new area of glaciological investigation and how it should progress in future.


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Authors: Siegert, Martin J., Kulessa, Bernd, Bougamont, Marion, Christoffersen, Poul, Key, Kerry, Andersen, Kristoffer R., Booth, Adam D., Smith, Andrew M. ORCIDORCID record for Andrew M. Smith

Editors: Siegert, M.J., Jamieson, S.S.R., White, D.A.

On this site: Andy Smith
1 January, 2018
In: Siegert, M.J., Jamieson, S.S.R., White, D.A. (eds.). Exploration of subsurface Antarctica: Uncovering past changes and modern processes, London, Geological Society of London, 197-213.
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