Despite the large amount of subglacial lakes present underneath the East Antarctic ice sheet and the melt processes involved, the hydrology beneath the ice sheet is poorly understood. Changes in subglacial potential gradients may lead to subglacial lake outbursts, discharging excess water through a subglacial drainage system underneath the ice sheet. Such processes can eventually lead to an increase in ice flow. In this paper, a full Stokes numerical ice-sheet model was employed which takes into account the ice flow over subglacial water bodies in hydrostatic equilibrium with the overlying ice. Sensitivity experiments were carried out for small perturbations in ice flow and basal melt rate as a function of ice thickness, general surface slope, ice viscosity and lake size, in order to investigate their influence on the subglacial potential gradient and the impact on subglacial lake drainage. Experiments clearly demonstrate that small changes in surface slope are sufficient to start and sustain episodic subglacial drainage events. Lake drainage can therefore be regarded as a common feature of the subglacial hydrological system and may influence, to a large extent, the present and future behavior of large ice sheets.
The Journal of Glaciology is published six times per year. It accepts submissions from any discipline related to the study of snow and ice. All articles are peer reviewed. The Journal is included in the ISI Science Citation Index.