Hydrologically Induced Basal Slip Triggers Greenland Supraglacial Lake Drainages

Friday, 19 December 2014
Laura A Stevens1, Mark D Behn2, Jeffrey Joseph McGuire2, Sarah B Das2, Ian R Joughin3, Thomas Herring1, David E Shean4 and Matt A King5, (1)Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, United States, (2)WHOI, Woods Hole, MA, United States, (3)Applied Physics Lab, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, United States, (4)Applied Physics Lab, University of Washington, Polar Science Center, Seattle, WA, United States, (5)University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia
We investigate what triggers the rapid drainage of a large supraglacial lake on the western margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet using a Network Inversion Filter (NIF) (Segall and Matthews, 1997) to invert a dense local network of GPS observations over three summers (2011-2013). The NIF is used to determine the spatiotemporal variability in ice sheet behavior (1) prior to lake drainage, and in response to (2) vertical hydro-fracture crack propagation and closure, (3) the opening of a horizontal cavity at the ice-sheet bed that accommodates the rapid injection of melt-water, and (4) extra basal slip due to enhanced lubrication. The NIF also allows us to infer the distribution of melt-water at the ice-sheet bed before, during, and after drainage. Our data show that the opening and propagation of each summer’s lake-draining hydro-fracture is preceded by a local stress perturbation associated with ice sheet uplift and enhanced slip above pre-drainage background velocities. Within <1 day after the onset of each precursor, a vertical crack propagates through the lake basin and the lake drains rapidly (<5 hours). The NIF shows that the precursors are not associated with slow propagation of the lake draining hydrofracture, but rather pre-existing crevasses and/or moulins, which allow substantial amounts of melt-water to reach the bed and activate enhanced basal slip up to a day before hydro-fracture crack initiation. Identification of these precursors combined with the fact that drainages are observed to occur across a range of lake volumes and geometries, suggests that lakes do not spontaneously hydro-fracture once they surpass a specific threshold despite the numerous healed hydro-fracture cracks present within the lake basin from the prior years’ drainage events. These results have implications for rapid drainage of supraglacial lakes in less crevassed, interior regions of the Greenland Ice Sheet, as well as the rapid collapse of Antarctic ice shelves through melt pond hydro-fracturing.


P. Segall, M. Matthews, Time dependent inversion of geodetic data. J. Geophys. Res., 1–19 (1997).