Many scientists note that liquid water is key to understanding the behavior of the frozen form found in glaciers. Meltwater is known to lubricate their gravelly bases and hasten their descent into the sea. Researchers in Antarctica have discovered hundreds of interconnected liquid rivers and lakes cradled within the ice itself in recent years. And they have imaged thick basins of sediments under the ice, potentially containing the most significant water reservoirs.
For the first time, a team has mapped a huge, actively circulating groundwater system in deep sediments in West Antarctica. They noted that such systems, probably common in Antarctica, may have as-yet-unknown implications for how the frozen continent reacts to, or possibly even contributes to, climate change.
“People have hypothesized that there could be deep groundwater in these sediments, but up to now, no one has done any detailed imaging,” said the study’s lead author, Chloe Gustafson, who did the research as a graduate student at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “The amount of groundwater we found was very significant; it likely influences ice-stream processes. Now we have to find out more and figure out how to incorporate that into models.”