Research Article

An Active Subglacial Water System in West Antarctica Mapped from Space

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Science  16 Mar 2007:
Vol. 315, Issue 5818, pp. 1544-1548
DOI: 10.1126/science.1136897

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Satellite laser altimeter elevation profiles from 2003 to 2006 collected over the lower parts of Whillans and Mercer ice streams, West Antarctica, reveal 14 regions of temporally varying elevation, which we interpret as the surface expression of subglacial water movement. Vertical motion and spatial extent of two of the largest regions are confirmed by satellite image differencing. A major, previously unknown subglacial lake near the grounding line of Whillans Ice Stream is observed to drain 2.0 cubic kilometers of water into the ocean over ∼3 years, while elsewhere a similar volume of water is being stored subglacially. These observations reveal a wide spread, dynamic subglacial water system that may exert an important control on ice flow and mass balance.

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