Mapping Antarctic Subglacial Water in Three Dimensions with Novel Electromagnetic Techniques

Lead PI: Kerry Key

Unit Affiliation: Marine and Polar Geophysics, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

December 2017 - November 2020
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: The Antarctic ice sheet is underlain by a dynamic water system that lubricates the flow of ice streams and outlet glaciers, provides a habitat for a diverse microbial ecosystem, and delivers freshwater and nutrients to the Southern Ocean. However, imaging this subglacial environment is difficult: Antarctica is a vast continent with ice up to four kilometers (2.5 miles) thick. To detect water at the ice-bed interface and in deeper groundwater reservoirs, this project will adapt a technique called electromagnetic sounding that is well-established on land and in the ocean for imaging fluids beneath the surface. Groundwater is estimated to be a significant part of the subglacial water budget in Antarctica, yet previous observational approaches have been unable to characterize its volume and distribution. This project will thus yield critical information about how ice-rock-water-ocean systems interact and inform our understanding of ice-sheet processes, global nutrient cycles, and freshwater flux to the ocean. The project will provide cross-disciplinary training for a graduate student and postdoctoral scientist, and develop an educational outreach program through the Birch Aquarium.


University of California, San Diego


National Science Foundation




freshwater ice streams electromagnetic sounding groundwater microbial ecosystems