Little is known about Antarctic subglacial hydrology, but based on
modeling, theory and indirect observations it is thought that subglacial
runoff enhances submarine melt locally through buoyancy effects.
However, no studies to date have examined effects of runoff on sea ice
and circulation on the continental shelf. Here we use modeled and
observational estimates of runoff to force a regional model of the
Amundsen Sea Embayment. We find that runoff enhances melt locally (i.e.
within the ice-shelf cavity), increasing melt at Thwaites ice shelf by
up to 15 Gt/a given estimates of steady runoff, and up to 25 Gt/a if
runoff is episodic as remote sensing measurements suggest. However
runoff also has smaller nonlocal effects through freshwater influence on
flow and stratification. We further find that runoff reduces summer
sea-ice volume over the continental shelf (by up to 10\%
with steady runoff but over 30\% with episodic runoff).
Furthermore runoff is much more effective at reducing sea ice than an
equivalent volume of ice-shelf meltwater – due in part to the latent
heat loss associated with submarine melting. Results suggest that runoff
may play an important role in continental shelf dynamics, despite runoff
flux being small relative to ice-shelf melting – and that runoff-driven
melt and circulation may be an important process missing from regional
Antarctic ocean models.