Collaborative Research: Elevation Change Anomalies in West Antarctica and Dynamics of Subglacial Water Transport Beneath Ice Streams and their Tributaries
This award supports a project to study elevation change anomalies (henceforth ECAs), which are oval-shaped, 5-to-10 km areas observed in remote sensing images in several locations within the Ross Sea sector of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). Within these anomalies, surface elevation changes at rates of up to ~1 to ~2 cm per day, significantly faster than in surrounding regions. These anomalies are thought to result from filling and draining of multi-kilometer-scale subglacial water pockets. The intellectual merit of this project is that these ECA's represent an unprecedented window into the elusive world of water drainage dynamics beneath the modern Antarctic ice sheet. Although subglacial water fluxes are small compared to normal terrestrial conditions, they play an important role in controlling fast ice streaming and, potentially, stability of the ice sheet. The dearth of observational constraints on sub-ice sheet water dynamics represents one of the most important limitations on progress in quantitative modeling of ice streams and ice sheets. Such models are necessary to assess future ice sheet mass balance and to reconstruct the response of ice sheets to past climate changes. The dynamic sub-ice sheet water transport indicated by the ECAs may have also implications for studies of subglacial lakes and other subglacial environments, which may harbor life adapted to such extreme conditions. The broader impacts of this project are that it will provide advanced training opportunities to one postdoctoral fellow (UW), two female doctoral students (UCSC), who will enhance diversity in polar sciences, and at least three undergraduate students (UCSC). Project output will be relevant to broad scientific and societal interests, such as the future global sea level changes and the response of Polar Regions to climate changes. Douglas Fox, a freelance science journalist, is interested in joining the first field season to write feature articles to popular science magazines and promote the exposure of this project, and Antarctic Science in general, to mass media.
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