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Greenland supraglacial lake drainages triggered by hydrologically induced basal slip

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Matt King


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Water-driven fracture propagation beneath supraglacial lakes rapidly transports large volumes of surface meltwater to the base of the Greenland Ice Sheet(1). These drainage events drive transient ice-sheet acceleration(1-3) and establish conduits for additional surface-to-bed meltwater transport for the remainder of the melt season(1,4-6). Although it is well established that cracks must remain water-filled to propagate to the bed(7-9), the precise mechanisms that initiate hydro-fracture events beneath lakes are unknown. Here we show that, for a lake on the western Greenland Ice Sheet, drainage events are preceded by a 6-12 hour period of ice-sheet uplift and/or enhanced basal slip. Our observations from a dense Global Positioning System (GPS) network allow us to determine the distribution of meltwater at the ice-sheet bed before, during, and after three rapid drainages in 2011-2013, each of which generates tensile stresses that promote hydro-fracture beneath the lake. We hypothesize that these precursors are associated with the introduction of meltwater to the bed through neighbouring moulin systems (vertical conduits connecting the surface and base of the ice sheet). Our results imply that as lakes form in less crevassed, interior regions of the ice sheet(10-14), where water at the bed is currently less pervasive(5,14-16), the creation of new surface-to-bed conduits caused by lake-draining hydro-fractures may be limited.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Stevens LA, Behn MD, McGuire JJ, Das SB, Joughin I, Herring T, Shean DE, King MA

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Nature

Year: 2015

Volume: 522

Issue: 7554

Pages: 73-76

Print publication date: 04/06/2015

Online publication date: 03/06/2015

Acceptance date: 13/04/2015

ISSN (print): 0028-0836

ISSN (electronic): 1476-4687

Publisher: Nature Publishing Group


DOI: 10.1038/nature14480


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