Science & Tech

Antarctica: Vast reservoir of water discovered under the ice

Ice streams in Antarctica carry ice from the continent’s centre to the ocean, and there seems to be an enormous quantity of water buried beneath one, which can have an effect on its stream


5 May 2022

View of the four-person team?s field camp on the Whillans Ice Stream, West Antarctica with the Transantarctic Mountains in the background.

View of the analysis crew’s subject camp on the Whillans ice stream, West Antarctica, with the Transantarctic Mountains within the background

Kerry Key, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University

Antarctica is hiding an enormous quantity of water beneath its floor. Researchers have lengthy suspected that there is perhaps groundwater buried beneath the ice, however till now there was no conclusive proof to verify that suspicion.

Within Antarctica’s ice sheet, corridors of comparatively fast-moving ice stream to the ocean. “Ice streams are responsible for bringing 90 per cent of Antarctica’s ice out into its margins, so they’re really important for understanding how ice in Antarctica ultimately goes into the ocean,” says Chloe Gustafson on the University of California, San Diego.

“They’re sort of like water slides, in that if there’s water at the base of your ice stream, it can go very quickly, but if there’s no water there, you can’t go very fast,” she says.

Researchers already knew that shallow swimming pools of water –­­­ sometimes millimetres to a couple metres deep –­­­ can sit between the ice streams and the bottom under. But Gustafson and her colleagues needed to know whether or not there was a bigger reservoir of shifting water beneath the Whillans ice stream in West Antarctica.

By measuring seismic exercise and electromagnetic fields, they discovered a kilometre-thick layer of sediments saturated with a mixture of recent glacier water and historic seawater.

It accommodates greater than 10 instances as a lot water because the shallower swimming pools beneath the ice stream, and water appears to stream between the deep and shallow areas.

The obvious connection suggests the groundwater could also be essential for controlling the stream fee of the ice streams, a course of that’s essential to know for predicting the results of local weather change on sea stage.

“Antarctica as a whole, the whole ice sheet, contains [enough water to lead to] about 57 metres’ worth of sea level rise,” says Gustafson. “Ultimately, we want to understand how quickly that ice is going to flow off the continent into the ocean and affect that sea level rise.”

Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.abm3301

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