Antarctic Ice Instability due to Geothermal Heat Flux

Helene Seroussi, Erik R. Ivins, Douglas A. Wiens, Johannes Bondzio. Influence of a West Antarctic mantle plume on ice sheet basal conditions. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth. Volume 122, Issue 9, September 2017 , Pages 7127–7155 DOI: 10.1002/2017JB014423

The possibility that a deep mantle plume manifests Pliocene and Quaternary volcanism and potential elevated heat flux in West Antarctica has been studied for more than 30 years. Recent seismic images support the plume hypothesis as the cause of Marie Byrd Land (MBL) volcanism and geophysical structure. Mantle plumes may more than double the geothermal heat flux above nominal continental values. A dearth of in situ ice sheet basal data exists that samples the heat flux. Consequently, we examine a realistic distribution of heat flux associated with a possible late Cenozoic mantle plume in West Antarctica and explore its impact on thermal and melt conditions at the ice sheet base. We use a simple analytical mantle plume parameterization to produce geothermal heat flux at the base of the ice sheet. The three-dimensional ice flow model includes an enthalpy framework and full-Stokes stress balance. As both the putative plume location and extent are uncertain, we perform broadly scoped experiments to characterize the impact of the plume on geothermal heat flux and ice sheet basal conditions. The experiments show that mantle plumes have an important local impact on the ice sheet, with basal melting rates reaching several centimeters per year directly above the hotspot. In order to be consistent with observations of basal hydrology in MBL, the upper bound on the plume-derived geothermal heat flux is 150 mW/m2. In contrast, the active lake system of the lower part of Whillans Ice Stream suggests a widespread anomalous mantle heat flux, linked to a rift source.

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