Observations of Buried Lake Drainage on the Antarctic Ice Sheet

D. Dunmire, J. T.M. Lenaerts, A. F. Banwell, N. Wever, J. Shragge, S. Lhermitte, R. Drews, F. Pattyn, J. S.S. Hansen, I. C. Willis, J. Miller, E. Keenan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Between 1992 and 2017, the Antarctic Ice Sheet (AIS) lost ice equivalent to 7.6 ± 3.9 mm of sea level rise. AIS mass loss is mitigated by ice shelves that provide a buttress by regulating ice flow from tributary glaciers. However, ice-shelf stability is threatened by meltwater ponding, which may initiate, or reactivate preexisting, fractures, currently poorly understood processes. Here, through ground penetrating radar (GPR) analysis over a buried lake in the grounding zone of an East Antarctic ice shelf, we present the first field observations of a lake drainage event in Antarctica via vertical fractures. Concurrent with the lake drainage event, we observe a decrease in surface elevation and an increase in Sentinel-1 backscatter. Finally, we suggest that fractures that are initiated or reactivated by lake drainage events in a grounding zone will propagate with ice flow onto the ice shelf itself, where they may have implications for its stability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020GL087970
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 16 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


  • Antartica
  • GPR
  • glaciology
  • hydrofracture
  • hydrology
  • meltwater


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