Project Information
Collaborative Research: MIDGE: Minimally Invasive Direct Glacial Exploration of Biogeochemistry, Hydrology and Glaciology of Blood Falls, McMurdo Dry Valleys
Short Title:
Start Date:
End Date:
Project Location(s)
Blood Falls
Taylor Glacier
Recent discoveries of widespread liquid water and microbial ecosystems below the Antarctic ice sheets have generated considerable interest in studying Antarctic subglacial environments. Understanding subglacial hydrology, the persistence of life in extended isolation and the evolution and stability of subglacial habitats requires an integrated, interdisciplinary approach. The collaborative project, Minimally Invasive Direct Glacial Exploration (MIDGE) of the Biogeochemistry, Hydrology and Glaciology of Blood Falls, McMurdo Dry Valleys will integrate geophysical measurements, molecular microbial ecology and geochemical analyses to explore a unique Antarctic subglacial system known as Blood Falls. Blood Falls is a hypersaline, subglacial brine that supports an active microbial community. The subglacial brine is released from a crevasse at the surface of the Taylor Glacier providing an accessible portal into an Antarctic subglacial ecosystem. Recent geochemical and molecular analyses support a marine source for the salts and microorganisms in Blood Falls. The last time marine waters inundated this part of the McMurdo Dry Valleys was during the Late Tertiary, which suggests the brine is ancient. Still, no direct samples have been collected from the subglacial source to Blood Falls and little is known about the origin of this brine or the amount of time it has been sealed below Taylor Glacier. Radar profiles collected near Blood Falls delineate a possible fault in the subglacial substrate that may help explain the localized and episodic nature of brine release. However it remains unclear what triggers the episodic release of brine exclusively at the Blood Falls crevasse or the extent to which the brine is altered as it makes its way to the surface.

The MIDGE project aims to determine the mechanism of brine release at Blood Falls, evaluate changes in the geochemistry and the microbial community within the englacial conduit and assess if Blood Falls waters have a distinct impact on the thermal and stress state of Taylor Glacier, one of the most studied polar glaciers in Antarctica. The geophysical study of the glaciological structure and mechanism of brine release will use GPR, GPS, and a small passive seismic network. Together with international collaborators, the 'Ice Mole' team from FH Aachen University of Applied Sciences, Germany (funded by the German Aerospace Center, DLR), MIDGE will develop and deploy innovative, minimally invasive technologies for clean access and brine sample retrieval from deep within the Blood Falls drainage system. These technologies will allow for the collection of samples of the brine away from the surface (up to tens of meters) for geochemical analyses and microbial structure-function experiments. There is concern over the contamination of pristine subglacial environments from chemical and biological materials inherent in the drilling process; and MIDGE will provide data on the efficacy of thermoelectric probes for clean access and retrieval of representative subglacial samples. Antarctic subglacial environments provide an excellent opportunity for researching survivability and adaptability of microbial life and are potential terrestrial analogues for life habitats on icy planetary bodies. The MIDGE project offers a portable, versatile, clean alternative to hot water and mechanical drilling and will enable the exploration of subglacial hydrology and ecosystem function while making significant progress towards developing technologies for minimally invasive and clean sampling of icy systems.
Person Role
Tulaczyk, Slawek Investigator
Pettit, Erin Investigator
Lyons, W. Berry Investigator
Mikucki, Jill Investigator
Antarctic Integrated System Science Award # 1727387
Antarctic Instrumentation and Support Award # 1144192
Antarctic Integrated System Science Award # 1144192
Antarctic Integrated System Science Award # 1144177
Antarctic Integrated System Science Award # 1144176
AMD - DIF Record(s)
Data Management Plan
None in the Database
  1. Badgeley, J.A., Pettit, E.C., Carr, C.G., Tulaczyk, S., Mikucki, J.A. and Lyons, W.B., 2017. An englacial hydrologic system of brine within a cold glacier: Blood Falls, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Journal of Glaciology, 63(239), pp.387-400. (doi:10.1017/jog.2017.16)
  2. Dachwald, B., Mikucki, J., Tulaczyk, S., Digel, I., Espe, C., Feldmann, M., Francke, G., Kowalski, J. and Xu, C. (2014). IceMole: a maneuverable probe for clean in situ analysis and sampling of subsurface ice and subglacial aquatic ecosystems, Annals of Glaciology, 55, 65, 14-22 (doi:10.3189/2014AoG65A004)
  3. Kowalski, J., Linder, P., Zierke, S., von Wulfen, B., Clemens, J., Konstantinidis, K., Ameres, G., Hoffmann, R., Mikucki, J., Tulaczyk, S. and Funke, O. (2016). Navigation technology for exploration of glacier ice with maneuverable melting probes, Cold Regions Science and Technology, 123, 53-70 (doi:10.1016/j.coldregions.2015.11.006)
  4. Lyons, W. B., Mikucki, J. A., German, L. A., Welch, K. A., Welch, S. A., Gardner, C. B., et al. (2019). The geochemistry of englacial brine from Taylor Glacier, Antarctica. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 124. (doi:10.1029/2018JG004411)
  5. Gardner, C.B. and Lyons, W.B., Modelled composition of cryogenically produced subglacial brines, Antarctica. Antarctic Science, pp.1-2. (doi:10.1017/S095410201900004X)
  6. German, L., Mikucki, J.A., Welch, K.A, Welch, S.A, Lutton, A., Dachwald, B. Kowalski, J., Heinen, D., Feldman, M., Frankeand, J., Espe, C., and Lyons, W.B. (in revision). Validation of Sampling Antarctic Englacial Hypersaline Waters with a Thermoelectric Ice Melting Probe (IceMole) for Environmental Analytical Geochemistry. International Journal of Environmental Analytical Chemistry.
  7. Microbial diversity of an Antarctic subglacial community and high‐resolution replicate sampling inform hydrological connectivity in a polar desert (doi:10.1111/1462-2920.14607)
  8. Genomic and physiological characterization and description of Marinobacter gelidimuriae sp. nov., a psychrophilic, moderate halophile from Blood Falls, an antarctic subglacial brine (doi:10.1093/femsec/fiy021)
  9. Microbial ecology of the cryosphere: sea ice and glacial habitats (doi:10.1038/nrmicro3522)
  10. Carr, C. G., Carmichael, J. D., & Pettit, E. C. (2021). Wintertime Brine Discharge at the Surface of a Cold Polar Glacier and the Unexpected Absence of Associated Seismicity. (doi:10.1002/essoar.10507440.1)
  11. Lyons, W. B., Mikucki, J. A., German, L. A., Welch, K. A., Welch, S. A., Gardner, C. B., … Dachwald, B. (2019). The Geochemistry of Englacial Brine From Taylor Glacier, Antarctica. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 124(3), 633–648. (doi:10.1029/2018jg004411)
  12. Konstantinidis, K., Flores Martinez, C. L., Dachwald, B., Ohndorf, A., Dykta, P., Bowitz, P., … Förstner, R. (2015). A lander mission to probe subglacial water on Saturn׳s moon Enceladus for life. Acta Astronautica, 106, 63–89. (doi:10.1016/j.actaastro.2014.09.012)
  13. German, L., Mikucki, J. A., Welch, S. A., Kathleen A., W., Lutton, A., Dachwald, B., … Lyons, W. B. (2019). Validation of sampling antarctic subglacial hypersaline waters with an electrothermal ice melting probe (IceMole) for environmental analytical geochemistry. International Journal of Environmental Analytical Chemistry, 101(15), 2654–2667. (doi:10.1080/03067319.2019.1704750)