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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 12, issue 10 | Copyright
The Cryosphere, 12, 3383-3407, 2018
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-12-3383-2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 29 Oct 2018

Research article | 29 Oct 2018

Basal control of supraglacial meltwater catchments on the Greenland Ice Sheet

Josh Crozier1, Leif Karlstrom1, and Kang Yang2,3 Josh Crozier et al.
  • 1University of Oregon Department of Earth Sciences, Eugene, Oregon, USA
  • 2School of Geography and Ocean Science, Nanjing University, Nanjing 210023, China
  • 3Joint Center for Global Change Studies, Beijing 100875, China

Abstract. Ice surface topography controls the routing of surface meltwater generated in the ablation zones of glaciers and ice sheets. Meltwater routing is a direct source of ice mass loss as well as a primary influence on subglacial hydrology and basal sliding of the ice sheet. Although the processes that determine ice sheet topography at the largest scales are known, controls on the topographic features that influence meltwater routing at supraglacial internally drained catchment (IDC) scales (< 10s of km) are less well constrained. Here we examine the effects of two processes on ice sheet surface topography: transfer of bed topography to the surface of flowing ice and thermal–fluvial erosion by supraglacial meltwater streams. We implement 2-D basal transfer functions in seven study regions of the western Greenland Ice Sheet ablation zone using recent data sets for bed elevation, ice surface elevation, and ice surface velocities. We find that  ∼ 1–10km scale ice surface features can be explained well by bed topography transfer in regions with different multiyear-averaged ice flow conditions. We use flow-routing algorithms to extract supraglacial stream networks from 2 to 5m resolution digital elevation models and compare these with synthetic flow networks calculated on ice surfaces predicted by bed topography transfer. Multiple geomorphological metrics calculated for these networks suggest that bed topography can explain general ∼ 1–10km supraglacial meltwater routing and that thermal–fluvial erosion thus has a lesser role in shaping ice surface topography on these scales. We then use bed topography transfer functions and flow routing to conduct a parameter study predicting how supraglacial IDC configurations and subglacial hydraulic potential would change under varying multiyear-averaged ice flow and basal sliding regimes. Predicted changes to subglacial hydraulic flow pathways directly caused by changing ice surface topography are subtle, but temporal changes in basal sliding or ice thickness have potentially significant influences on IDC spatial distribution. We suggest that changes to IDC size and number density could affect subglacial hydrology primarily by dispersing the englacial–subglacial input of surface meltwater.

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Understanding ice sheet surface meltwater routing is important for modeling and predicting ice sheet evolution. We determined that bed topography underlying the Greenland Ice Sheet is the primary influence on 1–10 km scale ice surface topography, and on drainage-basin-scale surface meltwater routing. We provide a simple means of predicting the response of surface meltwater routing to changing ice flow conditions and explore the implications of this for subglacial hydrology.
Understanding ice sheet surface meltwater routing is important for modeling and predicting ice...
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