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Seasonal evolution of water source contributions to subglacial outflow: Insight from a new isotope-mixing model

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Author(s)

Maya P. Bhatia, Sarah B. Das, Elizabeth B. Kujawinski, Paul B. Henderson, Andrea Burke, Matthew A. Charette

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Abstract

The Greenland ice sheet (GrIS) subglacial hydrological system may undergo a seasonal evolution, with significant geophysical and biogeochemical implications. We present results from a new isotope-mixing model to quantify the relative contributions of surface snow, glacial ice and delayed flow to the bulk meltwater discharge from a small (∼5 km2) land-terminating GrIS outlet glacier during melt onset (May) and at peak melt (July). We use radioactive (222Rn) and stable isotopes (18O, deuterium) to differentiate the water source contributions. Atmospherically derived 7Be further constrains meltwater transit time from the glacier surface to the ice margin. We show that (1) 222Rn is a promising tracer for glacial waters stored at the bed and (2) a quantitative chemical mixing model can be constructed by combining 222Rn and the stable water isotopes. Applying this model to the bulk subglacial outflow from our study area, we find a constant delayed-flow (stored) component from melt onset through peak melt. This component is diluted first by snowmelt and then by increasing glacial ice melt as the season progresses. Results from this pilot study are consistent with the hypothesis that subglacial drainage beneath land-terminating sections of the GrIS undergoes a seasonal evolution from a distributed to a channelized system.
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)929-941
JournalJournal of Glaciology
Volume57
Issue number205
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2011

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