Contrasting hydrological controls on bed properties during the acceleration of Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica

In the Amundsen sector of West Antarctica, the flow of glaciers accelerates when intrusion of warm ocean water onto the continental shelf induces strong melting beneath ice shelves and thinning near the glacier's grounding lines. Projecting the future of these glaciers is, however, hindered by a poor understanding of the dynamical processes that may exacerbate, or on the contrary modulate, the inland ice sheet response. This study seeks to investigate processes occurring at the base of Pine Island Glacier through numerical inversions of surface velocities observed in 1996 and 2014, a period of time during which the glacier accelerated significantly. The outputs show that substantial changes took place in the basal environment, which we interpreted with models of undrained subglacial till and hydrological routing. The annual basal melt production increased by 25% on average. Basal drag weakened by 15% over nearly two thirds of the region of accelerated flow, largely due to the direct assimilation of locally‐produced basal meltwater into the underlying subglacial sediment. In contrast, regions of increased drag are found to follow several of the glacier's shear margins, and furthermore to coincide with inferred hydrological pathways. We interpret this basal strengthening as signature of an efficient hydrological system, where low‐pressure water channels have reduced the surrounding basal water pressure. These are the first identified stabilization mechanisms to have developed alongside Pine Island ice flow acceleration. Indeed, these processes could become more significant with increased meltwater availability and may limit the glacier's response to perturbation near its grounding line.


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Authors: Bougamont, M., Christoffersen, P., Nias, I., Vaughan, David G. ORCIDORCID record for David G. Vaughan, Smith, Andy ORCIDORCID record for Andy Smith, Brisbourne, Alex ORCIDORCID record for Alex Brisbourne

On this site: Alex Brisbourne, Andy Smith, David Vaughan
1 January, 2019
Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface / 124
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