Basal drainage system response to increasing surface melt on the Greenland ice sheet.

Research paper by T T Meierbachtol, J J Harper, N N Humphrey

Indexed on: 21 Aug '13Published on: 21 Aug '13Published in: Science


Surface meltwater reaching the bed of the Greenland ice sheet imparts a fundamental control on basal motion. Sliding speed depends on ice/bed coupling, dictated by the configuration and pressure of the hydrologic drainage system. In situ observations in a four-site transect containing 23 boreholes drilled to Greenland's bed reveal basal water pressures unfavorable to water-draining conduit development extending inland beneath deep ice. This finding is supported by numerical analysis based on realistic ice sheet geometry. Slow meltback of ice walls limits conduit growth, inhibiting their capacity to transport increased discharge. Key aspects of current conceptual models for Greenland basal hydrology, derived primarily from the study of mountain glaciers, appear to be limited to a portion of the ablation zone near the ice sheet margin.