AWI [Alfred Wegener Institute] researchers recently assessed subglacial lakes detected by satellite, and found very little water. But if that's the case, what is the source of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet's massive ice streams?
In the course of an extensive Antarctic expedition, researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) investigated several lakes beneath Recovery Glacier that had been previously detected by satellite remote sensing. The experts found very few substantial bodies of water, which is a surprising result: up to that point, the scientific community had assumed that overflowing lakes below the East Antarctic Ice Sheet were the reason that ice masses began sliding and forming ice streams to begin with. This new study has just been released in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
Recovery Glacier, located in the Coats Land region of Antarctica, has always been a slumbering giant, transporting ice from the high plateau of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet down toward the Weddell Sea at a snail's pace of only 10 to 400 metres per year. Its drainage area stretches nearly 1000 kilometres inland from the Filchner Ice Shelf on the coast, and is nearly three times the size of Germany. These two aspects could make the glacier into a potential threat, in the event that climate change accelerates its tempo some time in the future. According to forecasts, if this comes to pass, Recovery may also be the stream through which East Antarctica loses the most ice. A global sea-level rise would be the direct result.
The ice sheet had been presumed to be hydroplaning on sub-glacial meltwater.