04 Sep 2023
 | 04 Sep 2023
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Alpine topography of the Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains, Antarctica, mapped from ice sheet surface morphology

Edmund J. Lea, Stewart S. R. Jamieson, and Michael J. Bentley

Abstract. Landscapes buried beneath the Antarctic Ice Sheet preserve information about the geologic and geomorphic evolution of the continent both before and during the wide-scale glaciation that began roughly 34 million years ago. Throughout this time, some areas of the ice sheet have remained cold-based and non-erosive, preserving ancient landscapes remarkably intact. The Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains in central East Antarctica are one such landscape, maintaining evidence of tectonic, fluvial and glacial controls on their distinctly alpine morphology. The central Gamburtsevs have previously been surveyed using airborne ice-penetrating radar, however, many questions remain as to their evolution and their influence on the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, including where in the region to drill for a 1.5-million-year-long ‘Oldest Ice’ core. Here, we derive new maps of the planform geometry of the Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains from satellite remote sensing datasets of the ice sheet surface, based on the relationship between bed roughness and ice surface morphology. Automated and manual approaches to mapping were tested and validated against existing radar data and elevation models. Manual mapping was more effective than automated approaches at reproducing bed features observed in radar data, but a hybrid approach is suggested for future work. The maps produced here show detail of mountain ridges and valleys on wavelengths significantly smaller than the spacing of existing radar flightlines, and mapping has extended well beyond the confines of existing radar surveys. Morphometric analysis of the mapped landscape reveals that it constitutes a preserved (> 34 Ma) dendritic valley network, with some evidence for modification by topographically confined glaciation prior to ice sheet inception. The planform geometry of the landscape is a significant control on locations of basal melting, subglacial hydrological flows, and the stability of the ice sheet over time, so the maps presented here may help to guide decisions about where to search for Oldest Ice.

Edmund J. Lea et al.

Status: open (until 18 Oct 2023)

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Edmund J. Lea et al.

Edmund J. Lea et al.


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Short summary
We use the ice surface expression of the Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains in East Antarctica to map the horizontal pattern of valleys and ridges in finer detail than possible from previous methods. In upland areas, valleys are spaced much less than 5 km apart, with consequences for the distribution of melting at the bed, and hence the likelihood of ancient ice being preserved. Automated mapping techniques were tested alongside manual approaches, with a hybrid approach recommended for future work.