Assessing the potential for ice flow piracy between the Totten and Vanderford glaciers, East Antarctica

Felicity S. McCormack, Jason L. Roberts, Bernd Kulessa, Alan Aitken, Christine F. Dow, Lawrence Bird, Benjamin K. Galton-Fenzi, Katharina Hochmuth, Richard S. Jones, Andrew N. MacKintosh, Koi McArthur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The largest regional drivers of current surface elevation increases in the Antarctic Ice Sheet are associated with ice flow reconfiguration in previously active ice streams, highlighting the important role of ice dynamics in mass balance calculations. Here, we investigate controls on the evolution of the flow configuration of the Vanderford and Totten glaciers - key outlet glaciers of the Aurora Subglacial Basin (ASB) - the most rapidly thinning region of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS). We synthesise factors that influence the ice flow in this region and use an ice sheet model to investigate the sensitivity of the catchment divide location to changes in surface elevation due to thinning at the Vanderford Glacier (VG) associated with ongoing retreat and thickening at the Totten Glacier (TG) associated with an intensification of the east-west snowfall gradient. The present-day catchment divide between the Totten and Vanderford glaciers is not constrained by the geology or topography but is determined by the large-scale ice sheet geometry and its long-term evolution in response to climate forcing. Furthermore, the catchment divide migrates under relatively small changes in surface elevation, leading to ice flow and basal water piracy from the Totten to the Vanderford Glacier. Our findings show that ice flow reconfigurations occur not only in regions of West Antarctica like the Siple Coast but also in the east, motivating further investigations of past, and the potential for future, ice flow reconfigurations around the whole Antarctic coastline. Modelling of ice flow and basal water piracy may require coupled ice sheet thermomechanical and subglacial hydrology models constrained by field observations of subglacial conditions. Our results have implications for ice sheet mass budget studies that integrate over catchments and the validity of the zero flow assumption when selecting sites for ice core records of past climate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4549-4569
Number of pages21
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2023


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