Project Information
Collaborative Research: Lithospheric Controls on the Behavior of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet: Corridor Aerogeophysics of Eastern Ross Transect Zone
Start Date:
End Date:
This award supports a project to conduct an integrated geophysical survey over a large portion of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) toward an understanding of the dynamic behavior of the ice sheet and the nature of the lithosphere beneath the ice sheet. West Antarctica is characterized by two kinds of the Earth s most dynamic systems, a continental rift (the West Antarctic Rift System) and a marine based ice sheet (the WAIS). Active continental rift systems, caused by divergent plate motions, result in thinned continental crust. Associated with the thin crust are fault-bounded sedimentary basins, active volcanism, and elevated heat flow. Marine ice sheets are characterized by rapidly moving streams of ice, penetrating and draining a slowly moving ice reservoir. Evidence left by past marine ice sheets indicates that they may have a strongly non- linear response to long-term climate change which results in massive and rapid discharges of ice. Understanding the evolution of the ice stream system and its interaction with the interior ice is the key to understanding this non-linear response. Subglacial geology and ice dynamics are generally studied in isolation, but evidence is mounting that the behavior of the West Antarctic ice streams may be closely linked to the nature of the underlying West Antarctic rift system. The fast moving ice streams appear to glide on a lubricating layer of water-saturated till. This till requires easily eroded sediment and a source of water, both of which may be controlled by the geology of the rift system; the sediments from the fault-bounded basins and the water from the elevated heat flux associated with active lithospheric extension. This project represents an interdisciplinary aerogeophysical study to characterize the lithosphere of the West Antarctic rift system beneath critical regions of the WAIS. The objective is to determine the effects of the rift architect ure, as manifested by the distribution of sedimentary basins and volcanic constructs, on the ice stream system. The research tool is a unique geophysical aircraft with laser altimetry, ice penetrating radar, aerogravity, and aeromagnetic systems integrated with a high precision kinematic GPS navigation system. It is capable of imaging both the surface and bed of the ice sheet while simultaneously measuring the gravity and magnetic signature of the subglacial lithosphere. Work to be done under this award will build on work already completed in the southern sector of central West Antarctica and it will focus on the region of the Byrd Subglacial Basin and Ice Stream D. The ice sheet in these regions is completely covered by satellite imagery and so this project will be integrated with remote sensing studies of the ice stream. The changing dynamics of Ice Stream D, as with other West Antarctic ice streams, seem to be correlated with changes in the morphological provinces of the underlying rift system. The experimental targets proceed from the divide of the interior ice, downstream through the onset of streaming to the trunk of Ice Stream D. This study will be coordinated with surface glaciological investigations of Ice Stream D and will be used to guide cooperative over-snow seismic investigations of the central West Antarctic rift system. The data will also be used to select a site for future deep ice coring along the crest of the WAIS. These data represent baseline data for long term global change monitoring work and represent crucial boundary conditions for ice sheet modeling efforts.
Person Role
Bell, Robin Investigator and contact
Blankenship, Donald D. Investigator
Finn, C. A. Investigator
Antarctic Earth Sciences Award # 9319877
Antarctic Earth Sciences Award # 9319854
Antarctic Earth Sciences Award # 9319369
Antarctic Glaciology Award # 9319369
AMD - DIF Record(s)
Data Management Plan
None in the Database
Product Level:
1 (processed data)
  1. Bell, R.E., Childers, V.A., Arko, R.A., Blankenship, D.D. and Brozena, J.M., 1999. Airborne gravity and precise positioning for geologic applications. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 104(B7), pp.15281-15292. (doi:10.1029/1999JB900122)
  2. Frederick, B. C., Young, D. A., Blankenship, D. D., Richter, T. G., Kempf, S. D., Ferraccioli, F., & Siegert, M. J. (2016). Distribution of subglacial sediments across the Wilkes Subglacial Basin, East Antarctica. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 121(4), 790–813. (doi:10.1002/2015jf003760)

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