Analysing subglacial geology hidden beneath the ice streams flowing into the Weddell Sea (West Antarctica)

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Owen King1, Fausto Ferraccioli2, Tom A Jordan3, Neil Ross4, Robert G. Bingham5, Anne M Le Brocq6, Andrew Smith1, Richard C A Hindmarsh2 and Martin John Siegert7, (1)NERC British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, United Kingdom, (2)NERC British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, CB3, United Kingdom, (3)British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, United Kingdom, (4)Newcastle University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, United Kingdom, (5)University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom, (6)University of Exeter, Exeter, United Kingdom, (7)Imperial College London, Grantham Institute and Department of Earth Science and Engineering, London, United Kingdom
Subglacial geology provides important controls on the onset and maintenance of fast glacial flow in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). Widespread subglacial sediments deposited within deep rift basins, thinner drapes of marine sediments within the West Antarctic Rift System (WARS) and high geothermal heat flux associated with Cenozoic magmatism have been previously identified as key geological controls that can modulate ice sheet dynamics.

Here, we compile a suite of new and vintage aeromagnetic and airborne gravity observations to examine the large-scale geological setting of several major ice streams flowing into the Weddell Sea Embayment and assess the role of geological controls on subglacial topography and WAIS flow regimes. We focus on the subglacial geology beneath the Institute and Moeller ice streams, the Rutford ice stream and the Evans ice stream. We show that the Moeller ice stream is underlain by a major strike-slip fault system, which is part of the tectonic boundary between East and West Antarctica. A set of en-echelon subglacial basins formed along the strike-slip fault and these basins appear to steer enhanced flow far inland. Deep sedimentary basins are not present along this fault system, however, suggesting that subglacial sediments are not necessarily a geological template for the onset of fast glacial flow. The recently identified Robin Subglacial Basin that underlies the fast flowing coastal region of the Institute ice stream contains 1-3 km of sedimentary infill and smooth bedrock topography. Enhanced flow in the tributaries of the Institute ice stream cuts across the Ellsworth Mountains and is controlled by basement faults displacing metasedimentary and metavolcanic rocks.

Prominent magnetic anomalies overlie outcrops of Jurassic granitic intrusions and enable us to trace their subglacial extent beneath the catchments of Institute, Moeller and Rutford ice streams. These large granitoid bodies form topographic highs that appear to divert fast flow around them. Magnetic anomalies also delineate the extent of Precambrian basement that underlies a significant part of the Evans ice stream catchment. Narrow rifts developed the edges of this uplifted Precambrian block, and exert significant controls on fast flow in the Evans and Rutford ice streams.