Spatial Variability in Firn Properties from Borehole Optical Stratigraphy at the Inland WAIS Core Site
This award supports a project to study the patterns of accumulation variation and microstructural properties near the WAIS Divide ice core site in a 2.5 km array of 20 m boreholes. Borehole Optical Stratigraphy (BOS) is a novel optical measurement system that detects annual-scale layers in firn that result from changes in firn microstructure, giving annual-scale records of how accumulation varied spatially over the last 40-50 years. Data from borehole optical stratigraphy can eventually be calibrated against other data on the microstructural parameters of firn to calibrate BOS's sensitivity to density, pore-volume, and pore-shape variations, and to show by proxy how these parameters vary in space across the survey area. Statistical analysis of layer-thickness and layer-brightness data will enable prediction of: 1) interannual accumulation variability, 2) variability in layer-thickness at decadal scales due to changing spatial patterns in accumulation and 3) variability in microstructure-driven metamorphism due to changing spatial patterns of microstructure. With these statistics in hand, a scientist measuring climatic shifts found in the WAIS Divide ice core will be able to determine the fraction by which signals they measure exceed the signal due to background accumulation variations. As an added benefit, while still in the field, we will determine a preliminary depth-age scale for the firn by optical layer-counting, to the depth of the deepest air-filled firn hole available. This will be a valuable result for core-drilling operations and for preliminary data-analysis on the core. In terms of broader impacts, this project will advance education by training a post-doctoral student in field techniques. The P.I. and the post-doctoral researcher will participate in an undergraduate seminar called "What is Scientific Research?", incorporating progress and results from this project. They will also communicate about their progress and field experience with a middle-school science and math class.
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