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Antarctic geothermal heat flow and its implications for tectonics and ice sheets

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 14:44 authored by Anya ReadingAnya Reading, Tobias StaalTobias Staal, Jacqueline HalpinJacqueline Halpin, Losing, M, Ebbing, J, Shen, W, McCormack, FS, Siddoway, CS, Hasterok, D

Geothermal heat flow (GHF) is an elusive physical property, yet it can reveal past and present plate tectonic processes. In Antarctica, GHF has further consequences in predicting the response of ice sheets to climate change. In this Review, we discuss variations in Antarctic GHF models based on geophysical methods and draw insights into tectonics and GHF model usage for ice sheet modelling. The inferred GHF at continental scale for West Antarctica (up to 119 mW m−2, 95th percentile) points to numerous contributing influences, including non-steady state neotectonic processes. Combined influences cause especially high values in the vicinity of the Thwaites Glacier, a location critical for the accurate prediction of accelerated loss of Antarctic ice mass. The inferred variations across East Antarctica are more subtle (up to 66 mW m−2, 95th percentile), where slightly elevated values in some locations correspond to the influence of thinned lithosphere and tectonic units with concentrations of heat-producing elements. Fine-scale anomalies owing to heat-producing elements and horizontal components of heat flow are important for regional modelling. GHF maps comprising central values with these fine-scale anomalies captured within uncertainty bounds can thus enable improved ensemble-based ice sheet model predictions of Antarctic ice loss.


Australian Research Council


Publication title

Nature Reviews. Earth & Environment






School of Natural Sciences


Nature Publishing Group

Place of publication

United Kingdom

Rights statement

© Springer Nature Limited 2022.

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in the earth sciences; Expanding knowledge in the environmental sciences