The Antarctic ice sheet has been losing mass over past decades through the accelerated flow of its glaciers, conditioned by ocean temperature and bed topography. Glaciers retreating along retrograde slopes (that is, the bed elevation drops in the inland direction) are potentially unstable, while subglacial ridges slow down the glacial retreat. Despite major advances in the mapping of subglacial bed topography, significant sectors of Antarctica remain poorly resolved and critical spatial details are missing. Here we present a novel, high-resolution and physically based description of Antarctic bed topography using mass conservation. Our results reveal previously unknown basal features with major implications for glacier response to climate change. For example, glaciers flowing across the Transantarctic Mountains are protected by broad, stabilizing ridges. Conversely, in the marine basin of Wilkes Land, East Antarctica, we find retrograde slopes along Ninnis and Denman glaciers, with stabilizing slopes beneath Moscow University, Totten and Lambert glacier system, despite corrections in bed elevation of up to 1 km for the latter. This transformative description of bed topography redefines the high- and lower-risk sectors for rapid sea level rise from Antarctica; it will also significantly impact model projections of sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Nature Communications Open Access 24 October 2023
Nature Climate Change Open Access 23 October 2023
Nature Geoscience Open Access 12 October 2023
Access Nature and 54 other Nature Portfolio journals
Get Nature+, our best-value online-access subscription
$29.99 / 30 days
cancel any time
Subscribe to this journal
Receive 12 print issues and online access
$259.00 per year
only $21.58 per issue
Rent or buy this article
Prices vary by article type
Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout
BedMachine Antarctica is publicly available at the NSIDC, Boulder, CO, as a MEaSUREs-3 product (http://nsidc.org/data/nsidc-0756).
The algorithms used to generate the bed topography are included in the open-source Ice Sheet System Model (https://issm.jpl.nasa.gov).
Evans, S. & Robin, Gd. Q. Glacier depth-sounding from air. Nature 210, 883–885 (1966).
Pritchard, H. D. Bedgap: where next for Antarctic subglacial mapping? Antarct. Sci. 26, 742–757 (2014).
Holt, J. W., Peters, M. E., Kempf, S. D., Morse, D. L. & Blankenship, D. D. Echo source discrimination in single-pass airborne radar sounding data from the dry valleys, Antarctica: implications for orbital sounding of Mars. J. Geophys. Res. 111, E06S24 (2006).
Jezek, K., Wu, X., Paden, J. & Leuschen, C. Radar mapping of Isunnguata Sermia, Greenland. J. Glaciol. 59, 1135–1146 (2013).
Fretwell, P. et al. Bedmap2: improved ice bed, surface and thickness datasets for Antarctica. Cryosphere 7, 375–393 (2013).
Durand, G., Gagliardini, O., Favier, L., Zwinger, T. & le Meur, E. Impact of bedrock description on modeling ice sheet dynamics. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L20501 (2011).
Morlighem, M. et al. A mass conservation approach for mapping glacier ice thickness. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L19503 (2011).
Seroussi, H. et al. Ice flux divergence anomalies on 79 north glacier, Greenland. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L09501 (2011).
Morlighem, M., Rignot, E., Mouginot, J., Seroussi, H. & Larour, E. Deeply incised submarine glacial valleys beneath the Greenland ice sheet. Nat. Geosci. 7, 418–422 (2014).
Morlighem, M. et al. Bedmachine v3: complete bed topography and ocean bathymetry mapping of Greenland from multi-beam echo sounding combined with mass conservation. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 11051–11061 (2017).
Rignot, E., Velicogna, I., van den Broeke, M. R., Monaghan, A. & Lenaerts, J. Acceleration of the contribution of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to sea level rise. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L05503 (2011).
Mouginot, J., Rignot, E., Scheuchl, B. & Millan, R. Comprehensive annual ice sheet velocity mapping using Landsat-8, Sentinel-1 and RADARSAT-2 data. Remote Sens. 9, 364 (2017).
van Wessem, J. M. et al. Modelling the climate and surface mass balance of polar ice sheets using RACMO2: part 2: Antarctica (1979–2016). Cryosphere 12, 1479–1498 (2018).
Howat, I. M., Porter, C., Smith, B. E., Noh, M.-J. & Morin, P. The reference elevation model of Antarctica. Cryosphere 13, 665–674 (2019).
Rignot, E. et al. Four decades of Antarctic ice sheet mass balance from 1979–2017. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 116, 1095–1103 (2019).
Bingham, R. G. et al. Diverse landscapes beneath Pine Island Glacier influence ice flow. Nat. Commun. 8, 1618 (2017).
Rignot, E., Mouginot, J., Morlighem, M., Seroussi, H. & Scheuchl, B. Widespread, rapid grounding line retreat of Pine Island, Thwaites, Smith and Kohler glaciers, West Antarctica from 1992 to 2011. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 3502–3509 (2014).
Joughin, I., Smith, B. E. & Medley, B. Marine ice sheet collapse potentially underway for the Thwaites Glacier Basin, West Antarctica. Science 344, 735–738 (2014).
Seroussi, H. et al. Continued retreat of Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica, controlled by bed topography and ocean circulation. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 6191–6199 (2017).
Yu, H., Rignot, E., Seroussi, H. & Morlighem, M. Retreat of Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica, over the next 100 years using various ice flow models, ice shelf melt scenarios and basal friction laws. Cryosphere 12, 3861–3876 (2018).
Nias, I. J., Cornford, S. L. & Payne, A. J. New mass-conserving bedrock topography for Pine Island Glacier impacts simulated decadal rates of mass loss. Geophys. Res. Lett. 45, 3173–3181 (2018).
Sugden, D. E. & John, B. S. Glaciers and Landscape: A Geomorphological Approach (Edward Arnold, 1976).
Jamieson, S. S. et al. The glacial geomorphology of the Antarctic ice sheet bed. Antarct. Sci. 26, 724–741 (2014).
Weertman, J. Stability of the junction of an ice sheet and an ice shelf. J. Glaciol. 13, 3–11 (1974).
Li, X., Rignot, E., Morlighem, M., Mouginot, J. & Scheuchl, B. Grounding line retreat of Totten Glacier, East Antarctica, 1996 to 2013. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 8049–8056 (2015).
Rintoul, S. R. et al. Ocean heat drives rapid basal melt of the Totten Ice Shelf. Sci. Adv. 2, e1601610 (2016).
Eagles, G. et al. Erosion at extended continental margins: insights from new aerogeophysical data in eastern Dronning Maud Land. Gondwana Res. 63, 105–116 (2018).
Millan, R., Rignot, E., Bernier, V., Morlighem, M. & Dutrieux, P. Bathymetry of the Amundsen Sea Embayment sector of West Antarctica from operation icebridge gravity and other data. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 1360–1368 (2017).
Morlighem, M. et al. High-resolution bed topography mapping of Russell Glacier, Greenland, inferred from operation icebridge data. J. Glaciol. 59, 1015–1023 (2013).
Greenbaum, J. S. et al. Ocean access to a cavity beneath Totten Glacier in East Antarctica. Nat. Geosci. 8, 294–298 (2015).
Tinto, K. J. et al. Ross Ice Shelf response to climate driven by the tectonic imprint on seafloor bathymetry. Nat. Geosci. 12, 441–449 (2019).
Rosier, S. H. R. et al. A new bathymetry for the southeastern Filchner–Ronne Ice Shelf: implications for modern oceanographic processes and glacial history. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 123, 4610–4623 (2018).
Arndt, J. E. et al. The International Bathymetric Chart of the Southern Ocean (IBCSO) version 1.0: a new bathymetric compilation covering circum-Antarctic waters. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 3111–3117 (2013).
This work was performed at the University of California Irvine under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Cryospheric Sciences Program (NNX17AI02G, NNX15AD55G and NNX14AN03G), MEaSURES-3 Program (80NSSC18M0083) and the NSF-NERC International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (award 1739031). We acknowledge the use of data and/or data products from CReSIS generated with support from the University of Kansas, NSF grant ANT-0424589, and NASA Operation IceBridge grant NNX16AH54G, and date products collected by the ICECAP collaboration under NSF grants ANT-1043761, ANT-1543452, ANT-0733025, ANT-1443690 and ANT-1143843, NASA grants (NNG10HPO6C and NNX11AD33G), and AAD projects (3013, 4077 and 4346), the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centre program through the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre and the Australian Research Council’s Special Research Initiative for Antarctic Gateway Partnership (Project ID SR140300001), the National Natural Science Foundation of China grant 41876227, with support by the G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation. R.D. was partially supported by the DFG Emmy Noether Grant DR 822/3-1, W.S.L. was supported by the Korean Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries (KIMST20190361; PM19020) and KOPRI (PE19110), F.F. acknowledges ESA (PolarGAP & 4D Antarctica projects) and BAS core programme support and E.C.S. was funded through the DFG Cost S2S project (EI672/10-1) in the framework of the priority programme “Antarctic Research with comparative investigations in Arctic ice areas”.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Primary Handling Editor(s): Heike Langenberg.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Morlighem, M., Rignot, E., Binder, T. et al. Deep glacial troughs and stabilizing ridges unveiled beneath the margins of the Antarctic ice sheet. Nat. Geosci. 13, 132–137 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-019-0510-8
This article is cited by
Nature Communications (2023)
Communications Earth & Environment (2023)
Nature Communications (2023)
Warming beneath an East Antarctic ice shelf due to increased subpolar westerlies and reduced sea ice
Nature Geoscience (2023)
Nature Communications (2023)