Articles | Volume 8, issue 2
Research article
15 Apr 2014
Research article |  | 15 Apr 2014

Cascading water underneath Wilkes Land, East Antarctic ice sheet, observed using altimetry and digital elevation models

T. Flament, E. Berthier, and F. Rémy

Abstract. We describe a major subglacial lake drainage close to the ice divide in Wilkes Land, East Antarctica, and the subsequent cascading of water underneath the ice sheet toward the coast. To analyse the event, we combined altimetry data from several sources and subglacial topography. We estimated the total volume of water that drained from Lake CookE2 by differencing digital elevation models (DEM) derived from ASTER and SPOT5 stereo imagery acquired in January 2006 and February 2012. At 5.2 ± 1.5 km3, this is the largest single subglacial drainage event reported so far in Antarctica. Elevation differences between ICESat laser altimetry spanning 2003–2009 and the SPOT5 DEM indicate that the discharge started in November 2006 and lasted approximately 2 years. A 13 m uplift of the surface, corresponding to a refilling of about 0.6 ± 0.3 km3, was observed between the end of the discharge in October 2008 and February 2012. Using the 35-day temporal resolution of Envisat radar altimetry, we monitored the subsequent filling and drainage of connected subglacial lakes located downstream of CookE2. The total volume of water traveling within the theoretical 500-km-long flow paths computed with the BEDMAP2 data set is similar to the volume that drained from Lake CookE2, and our observations suggest that most of the water released from Lake CookE2 did not reach the coast but remained trapped underneath the ice sheet. Our study illustrates how combining multiple remote sensing techniques allows monitoring of the timing and magnitude of subglacial water flow beneath the East Antarctic ice sheet.