Modeling Antarctic subglacial lake filling and drainage cycles
Abstract. The growth and drainage of active subglacial lakes in Antarctica has previously been inferred from analysis of ice surface altimetry data. We use a subglacial hydrology model applied to a synthetic Antarctic ice stream to examine internal controls on the filling and drainage of subglacial lakes. Our model outputs suggest that the highly constricted subglacial environment of our idealized ice stream, combined with relatively high rates of water flow funneled from a large catchment, can combine to create a system exhibiting slow-moving pressure waves. Over a period of years, the accumulation of water in the ice stream onset region results in a buildup of pressure creating temporary channels, which then evacuate the excess water. This increased flux of water beneath the ice stream drives lake growth. As the water body builds up, it steepens the hydraulic gradient out of the overdeepened lake basin and allows greater flux. Eventually this flux is large enough to melt channels that cause the lake to drain. Lake drainage also depends on the internal hydrological development in the wider system and therefore does not directly correspond to a particular water volume or depth. This creates a highly temporally and spatially variable system, which is of interest for assessing the importance of subglacial lakes in ice stream hydrology and dynamics.