Characterization of Lake Amundsen-Scott, S. Pole: A Ground Geophysical Program
This award supports a project to intensively study a subglacial Antarctic lake near the geographic South Pole using seismic and radar methods. These ground-based experiments are better suited to determine the presence of water and its thickness than are airborne methods. We hypothesize that there are two end-member explanations for this feature: either the lake is thawed, but freezing on (and likely to have been freezing on through much of the current interglacial period), or it is a frozen, relict lake for which the high basal radar reflectivity is due to intergranular water in a permafrost-like layer beneath the ice. The seismic experiment we propose is ideally suited to examine these alternatives. Intermediate cases of, e.g., a thawed saturated sedimentary base or a smooth crystalline basement layer would also be resolved by this experiment. Seismic reflections are sensitive to changes in acoustic impedance which is strongly variable with fluid content, porosity, and lithology. Water has low density relative to most rocks and low seismic velocity (and nil shear wave velocity) relative to both ice and rock. Thus, discriminating between subglacial water and subglacial rock is a task ideally suited to the seismic reflection technique. This project has significant impacts outside the directly affected fields of Antarctic glaciology and geology. The lake (either thawed or sediments with thin liquid layers around the matrix particles) will have the potential for harboring novel life forms. The experiment has the potential for expanding our information about the newest frontier in life on Earth. The collaboration between PIs in the seismic community and the marine acoustics community will foster cross-disciplinary pollination of ideas, techniques, and tools. In addition to traditional seismic techniques, new methods of data analysis that have been developed by acousticians will be applied to this problem as an independent measure of lake properties. We will train students who will have a wider view of seismology than would be possible in a traditional ocean acoustics or traditional geoscience seismology program of study.
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