Totten Glacier subglacial hydrology determined from geophysics and modeling

C. F. Dow, F. S. McCormack, D. A. Young, J. S. Greenbaum, J. L. Roberts, D. D. Blankenship

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Aurora Subglacial Basin (ASB), which feeds Totten Glacier, is a marine basin lying below sea level and contains up to 3.5 m of global sea level equivalent. Rates of future sea level rise from this area are primarily dependent on the stability of Totten Ice Shelf and the controls on ice flow dynamics upstream of the grounding line, both of which may be influenced by subglacial hydrology. We apply the GlaDS subglacial hydrology model to ASB to examine whether the spatial patterns of distributed and efficient drainage systems impact the dynamics of Totten Glacier. We determine the most appropriate model configuration from our series of sensitivity tests by comparing the modeled basal water pressure and water depth results with specularity content data. Those data are derived from ICECAP radar surveys over the same region and represent regions of basal water accumulation. The best match between simulated basal hydrology properties and specularity content shows a strong correspondence in regions of distributed water in the ASB troughs for both water depth and water pressure, but weak correspondence between water depth and specularity content near the grounding line. This may be due to the presence of several large channels draining over the grounding line into the head of Totten Ice Shelf, which are likely not as well represented in the specularity content data as distributed systems. These channels may have a significant impact on melt, and therefore the stability, of Totten Ice Shelf. Within ASB, regions of high water pressure and greater water accumulation correspond well with regions of faster ice flow, suggesting some control of basal hydrology on ice dynamics in this region.

Original languageEnglish
Article number115961
Number of pages9
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • East Antarctica
  • glacier hydrology
  • ice dynamics
  • Totten Glacier

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