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Science. 2008 May 9;320(5877):778-81. doi: 10.1126/science.1153360. Epub 2008 Apr 17.

Fracture propagation to the base of the Greenland Ice Sheet during supraglacial lake drainage.

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  • 1Department of Geology and Geophysics, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA.


Surface meltwater that reaches the base of an ice sheet creates a mechanism for the rapid response of ice flow to climate change. The process whereby such a pathway is created through thick, cold ice has not, however, been previously observed. We describe the rapid (<2 hours) drainage of a large supraglacial lake down 980 meters through to the bed of the Greenland Ice Sheet initiated by water-driven fracture propagation evolving into moulin flow. Drainage coincided with increased seismicity, transient acceleration, ice-sheet uplift, and horizontal displacement. Subsidence and deceleration occurred over the subsequent 24 hours. The short-lived dynamic response suggests that an efficient drainage system dispersed the meltwater subglacially. The integrated effect of multiple lake drainages could explain the observed net regional summer ice speedup.

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