Coupling between ice flow and subglacial hydrology enhances marine ice-sheet retreat

Lu, George; Kingslake, Jonathan

Ice-sheet models used to predict sea-level rise often neglect subglacial hydrology. However, theory and observations suggest that ice flow and subglacial water flow are bidirectionally coupled: ice flow and geometry affects hydraulic potential, hydraulic potential modulates basal shear stress via the basal water pressure, and ice flow advects the subglacial drainage system. This coupling could impact rates of ice mass change, but remains poorly understood. We combine a channelized subglacial hydrology model with a depth-integrated marine-ice-sheet model, incorporating each component of the coupling listed above, which yields a set of differential equations that we solve using a finite-difference, implicit time-stepping approach. We conduct a series of experiments with this model, using either bidirectional or unidirectional coupling. These experiments generate steady-state profiles of channel cross-sectional area, channel flow rate, channel effective pressure, ice thickness, and ice velocity. We discuss how the steady-state profiles shape one another, resulting in the effective pressure reaching a local maximum in a region near the grounding line. We also describe the impact of bidirectional coupling on the transient retreat of ice sheets through a comparison of our coupled model with ice-flow models that have imposed static basal conditions. We find that including coupled subglacial hydrology leads to grounding-line retreat that is virtually absent when static basal conditions are assumed. This work highlights the role time-evolving subglacial drainage may have in ice-sheet change and informs efforts to include it in ice-sheet models.

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Lu, George / Kingslake, Jonathan: Coupling between ice flow and subglacial hydrology enhances marine ice-sheet retreat. 2023. Copernicus Publications.

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