skip to main content

Title: Geospatial simulations of airborne ice-penetrating radar surveying reveal elevation under-measurement bias for ice-sheet bed topography
Abstract Airborne radio-echo sounding (RES) surveys are widely used to measure ice-sheet bed topography. Measuring bed topography as accurately and widely as possible is of critical importance to modelling ice dynamics and hence to constraining better future ice response to climate change. Measurement accuracy of RES surveys is influenced both by the geometry of bed topography and the survey design. Here we develop a novel approach for simulating RES surveys over glaciated terrain, to quantify the sensitivity of derived bed elevation to topographic geometry. Furthermore, we investigate how measurement errors influence the quantification of glacial valley geometry. We find a negative bias across RES measurements, where off-nadir return measurement error is typically −1.8 ± 11.6 m. Topographic highlands are under-measured an order of magnitude more than lowlands. Consequently, valley depth and cross-sectional area are largely under-estimated. While overall estimates of ice thickness are likely too high, we find large glacier valley cross-sectional area to be under-estimated by −2.8 ± 18.1%. Therefore, estimates of ice flux through large outlet glaciers are likely too low when this effect is not taken into account. Additionally, bed mismeasurements potentially impact our appreciation of outlet-glacier stability.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Annals of Glaciology
Page Range / eLocation ID:
46 to 57
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. null (Ed.)
    Abstract. The geometry of the sea floor immediately beyondAntarctica's marine-terminating glaciers is a fundamental control onwarm-water routing, but it also describes former topographic pinning pointsthat have been important for ice-shelf buttressing. Unfortunately, thisinformation is often lacking due to the inaccessibility of these areas forsurvey, leading to modelled or interpolated bathymetries being used asboundary conditions in numerical modelling simulations. At Thwaites Glacier(TG) this critical data gap was addressed in 2019 during the first cruise ofthe International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC) project. We present more than 2000 km2 of new multibeamecho-sounder (MBES) data acquired in exceptional sea-ice conditionsimmediately offshore TG, and we update existing bathymetric compilations.The cross-sectional areas of sea-floor troughs are under-predicted by up to40 % or are not resolved at all where MBES data are missing, suggesting thatcalculations of trough capacity, and thus oceanic heat flux, may besignificantly underestimated. Spatial variations in the morphology oftopographic highs, known to be former pinning points for the floating iceshelf of TG, indicate differences in bed composition that are supported bylandform evidence. We discuss links to ice dynamics for an overriding icemass including a potential positive feedback mechanism where erosion ofsoft erodible highs may lead to ice-shelf ungrounding even with littleor no ice thinning. Analyses of bed roughnesses and basal drag contributionsshow that the sea-floor bathymetry in front of TG is an analogue for extantbed areas. Ice flow over the sea-floor troughs and ridges would have beenaffected by similarly high basal drag to that acting at the grounding zonetoday. We conclude that more can certainly be gleaned from these 3Dbathymetric datasets regarding the likely spatial variability of bedroughness and bed composition types underneath TG. This work also addressesthe requirements of recent numerical ice-sheet and ocean modelling studiesthat have recognised the need for accurate and high-resolution bathymetry todetermine warm-water routing to the grounding zone and, ultimately, forpredicting glacier retreat behaviour. 
    more » « less
  2. Abstract Lemon Creek Glacier, a temperate valley glacier in the Juneau Icefield of Southeast Alaska, is the site of long running (>60 years) glaciological studies. However, the most recent published estimates of its thickness and subglacial topography come from two ~50 years old sources that are not in agreement and do not account for the effects of years of negative mass balance. We collected a 1-km long active-source seismic line on the upper section of the glacier parallel and near to the centerline of the glacier, roughly straddling the equilibrium-line altitude. We used these data to perform joint reflection-refraction velocity modeling and reflection imaging of the glacier bed. We find that this upper section of Lemon Creek Glacier is as much as 150 m (~65%) thicker than previously suggested with a large overdeepening in an area previously believed to have a uniform thickness. Our results lead us to reinterpret the impact of basal motion on ice flow and have a significant impact on expectations of subglacial hydrology. We suggest that further efforts to develop a whole-glacier model of subglacial topography are necessary to support studies that require accurate models of ice thickness and subglacial topography. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Radar‐sounding surveys measuring ice thickness in Greenland have enabled an increasingly “complete” knowledge of basal topography and glaciological processes. Where such observations are spatially limited, bed elevation has been interpolated through mass conservation or kriging. Ordinary kriging fails to resolve anisotropy in bed geometry, however, leaving complex topography misrepresented in elevation models of the ice sheet bed. Here, we demonstrate the potential of new high‐resolution (≤5 m) surface topography data (ArcticDEM) to provide enhanced insight into basal and englacial geometry and processes. Notable surface features, quantified via residual surface elevation, are observed coincident with documented subglacial channels, and new, smaller‐scale tributaries (<2,000 m in width) and valley‐like structures are clearly identified. Residual surface elevation also allows the extent of basal ice units to be mapped, which in conjunction with radar data indicate that they act as “false bottoms,” likely due to a rheological contrast in the ice column.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Bedforms of Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica both record and affect ice flow, as shown by geophysical data and simple models. Thwaites Glacier flows across the tectonic fabric of the West Antarctic rift system with its bedrock highs and sedimentary basins. Swath radar and seismic surveys of the glacier bed have revealed soft‐sediment flutes 100 m or more high extending 15 km or more across basins downglacier from bedrock highs. Flutes end at prominent hard‐bedded moats on stoss sides of the next topographic highs. We use simple models to show that ice flow against topography increases pressure between ice and till upglacier along the bed over a distance that scales with the topography. In this basal zone of high pressure, ice‐contact water would be excluded, thus increasing basal drag by increasing ice‐till coupling and till flux, removing till to allow bedrock erosion that creates moats. Till carried across highlands would then be deposited in lee‐side positions forming bedforms that prograde downglacier over time, and that remain soft on top through feedbacks that match till‐deformational fluxes from well upglacier of the topography. The bedforms of the part of Thwaites surveyed here are prominent because ice flow has persisted over a long time on this geological setting, not because ice flow is anomalous. Bedform development likely has caused evolution of ice flow over time as till and lubricating water were redistributed, moats were eroded and bedforms grew.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract Recent seismic measurements from upper Thwaites Glacier indicate that the bed-type variability is closely related to the along-flow basal topography. In high-relief subglacial highlands, stoss sides of topographic highs have a relatively higher acoustic impedance (‘hard’ bed) with lower acoustic impedance (‘soft’ till) on lee sides. This pattern is similar to observations of many deglaciated terrains. Subglacial hydraulic-potential gradient and its divergence show a tendency for water to diverge over the stoss sides and converge into the lee sides. Convergence favors a thicker or more widespread water system, which can more efficiently decouple ice from the underlying till. Under such circumstances, till deformation does occur but, fluxes are relatively small. Till carried from the lee sides onto stoss sides of downstream bumps should couple to the ice more efficiently, increasing the ability for transport by till deformation. In turn, this suggests that steady-state till transport can be achieved if the stoss-side till layer is thin or discontinuous. In addition, the large basal shear stress generated in the highlands seems too high for a bed lubricated by a continuous although thin deforming till, suggesting till discontinuity, which would allow debris-laden ice to erode bedrock on stoss sides, supplying additional till for transport. 
    more » « less