Greenland subglacial drainage evolution regulated by weakly connected regions of the bed

Matthew J. Hoffman, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Lauren C. Andrews, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Stephen A. Price, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Ginny A. Catania, University of Texas at Austin

Multidisciplinary Sciences


Penetration of surface meltwater to the bed of the Greenland Ice Sheet each summer causes an initial increase in ice speed due to elevated basal water pressure, followed by slowdown in late summer that continues into fall and winter. While this seasonal pattern is commonly explained by an evolution of the subglacial drainage system from an inefficient distributed to efficient channelized configuration, mounting evidence indicates that subglacial channels are unable to explain important aspects of hydrodynamic coupling in late summer and fall. Here we use numerical models of subglacial drainage and ice flow to show that limited, gradual leakage of water and lowering of water pressure in weakly connected regions of the bed can explain the dominant features in late and post melt season ice dynamics. These results suggest that a third weakly connected drainage component should be included in the conceptual model of subglacial hydrology.