Transient nature of Arctic spring systems driven by subglacial meltwater

J. M. Scheidegger, V. F. Bense, S. E. Grasby

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In the High Arctic, supra- and proglacial springs occur at Borup Fiord Pass, Ellesmere Island. Spring waters are sulfur bearing and isotope analysis suggests springs are fed by deeply circulating glacial meltwater. However, the mechanism maintaining spring flow is unclear in these areas of thick permafrost which would hamper the discharge of deep groundwater to the surface. It has been hypothesized that fracture zones along faults focus groundwater which discharges initially underneath wet-based parts of the ice. With thinning ice, the spring head is exposed to surface temperatures, tens of degrees lower than temperatures of pressure melting, and permafrost starts to develop. Numerical modeling of coupled heat and fluid flow suggest that focused groundwater discharge should eventually be cut off by permafrost encroaching into the feeding channel of the spring. Nevertheless, our model simulations show that these springs can remain flowing for millennia depending on the initial flow rate and ambient surface temperature. These systems might provide a terrestrial analog for the possible occurrence of Martian springs recharged by polar ice caps.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberL12405
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2012

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