A groundwater system found in deep deposits in West Antarctica likely has the consistency of a damp sponge, suggesting implications for how the frozen continent responds to the climate crisis, according to new research.
“Researchers have speculated that there may be deep groundwater in these deposits, but so far no one has done detailed imaging,” said study lead author Chloe Gustafson, postdoctoral researcher at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
“We want to make sure that we take into account all the processes that happen when ice flows off the continent into the oceans. Currently, groundwater is missing from our ice flow models,” the researcher added.
In recent years, researchers in Antarctica have discovered hundreds of interconnected liquid lakes and rivers located within the ice itself. But this is the first time that the presence of a large amount of liquid water in subglacial sediments has been discovered.
The authors of the study, published in the journal Science, focused on the 96.6-km-long Willan Ice Stream, one of a half-dozen streams that feed the world’s largest ice shelf, the Ross Ice Shelf.
Gustafson and her colleagues spent six weeks in 2018 mapping deposits under the ice. The research team used geophysical instruments placed directly on the surface to perform a technique called magnetotelluric imaging.
The researchers said more work needs to be done to understand the implications of groundwater discovery, especially with climate change and rising sea levels.
It is possible that the slow flow of water from the ice into sediment may prevent the accumulation of water at the base of the ice, acting as a brake on the movement of ice towards the sea.
Contact us: [email protected]