Project Information
Ice Dynamics at the Intersection of the West and East Antarctic Ice Sheets
Short Title:
Hercules Dome Ice Core Site Selection
Start Date:
End Date:
Project Website(s)
The response of the Antarctic ice sheet to climate change is a central issue in projecting global sea-level rise. While much attention is focused on the ongoing rapid changes at the coastal margin of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, obtaining records of past ice-sheet and climate change is the only way to constrain how an ice sheet changes over millennial timescales. Whether the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapsed during the last interglacial period (~130,000 to 116,000 years ago), when temperatures were slightly warmer than today, remains a major unsolved problem in Antarctic glaciology. Hercules Dome is an ice divide located at the intersection of the East Antarctic and West Antarctic ice sheets. It is ideally situated to record the glaciological and climatic effects of changes in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. This project will establish whether Hercules Dome experienced major changes in flow due to changes in the elevation of the two ice sheets. The project will also ascertain whether Hercules Domes is a suitable site from which to recover climate records from the last interglacial period. These records could be used to determine whether the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapsed during that period. The project will support two early-career researchers and train students at the University of Washington. Results will be communicated through outreach programs in coordination the Ice Drilling Project Office, the University of Washington's annual Polar Science Weekend in Seattle, and art-science collaboration.

This project will develop a history of ice dynamics at the intersection of the East and West Antarctic ice sheets, and ascertain whether the site is suitable for a deep ice-coring operation. Ice divides provide a unique opportunity to assess the stability of past ice flow. The low deviatoric stresses and non-linearity of ice flow causes an arch (a "Raymond Bump") in the internal layers beneath a stable ice divide. This information can be used to determine the duration of steady ice flow. Due to the slow horizontal ice-flow velocities, ice divides also preserve old ice with internal layering that reflects past flow conditions caused by divide migration. Hercules Dome is an ice divide that is well positioned to retain information of past variations in the geometry of both the East and West Antarctic Ice Sheets. This dome is also the most promising location at which to recover an ice core that can be used to determine whether the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapsed during the last interglacial period. Limited ice-penetrating radar data collected along a previous scientific surface traverse indicate well-preserved englacial stratigraphy and evidence suggestive of a Raymond Bump, but the previous survey was not sufficiently extensive to allow thorough characterization or determination of past changes in ice dynamics. This project will conduct a dedicated survey to map the englacial stratigraphy and subglacial topography as well as basal properties at Hercules Dome. The project will use ground-based ice-penetrating radar to 1) image internal layers and the ice-sheet basal interface, 2) accurately measure englacial attenuation, and 3) determine englacial vertical strain rates. The radar data will be combined with GPS observations for detailed topography and surface velocities and ice-flow modeling to constrain the basal characteristics and the history of past ice flow.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
Person Role
Christianson, Knut Investigator and contact
Hoffman, Andrew Investigator
Holschuh, Nicholas Investigator
Hills, Benjamin Researcher
Antarctic Glaciology Award # 1744649
AMD - DIF Record(s)
Deployment Type
Hercules Dome field camp
Data Management Plan
Product Level:
0 (raw data)
  1. Hills, B. H., Christianson, K., Hoffman, A. O., Fudge, T. J., Holschuh, N., Kahle, E. C., … Steig, E. J. (2022). Geophysics and Thermodynamics at South Pole Lake Indicate Stability and a Regionally Thawed Bed. Geophysical Research Letters, 49(2). (doi:10.1029/2021gl096218)
  2. Fudge, T. J., Hills, B. H., Horlings, A. N., Holschuh, N., Christian, J. E., Davidge, L., Hoffman, A., O’Connor, G. K., Christianson, K., & Steig, E. J. (2022). A site for deep ice coring at West Hercules Dome: results from ground-based geophysics and modeling. Journal of Glaciology, 1–13. (doi:10.1017/jog.2022.80)
  3. Hoffman, A. O., Holschuh, N., Mueller, M., Paden, J., Muto, A., Ariho, G., Brigham, C., Christian, J. E., Davidge, L., Heitmann, E., Hills, B., Horlings, A., Morey, S., O’Connor, G., Fudge, T. J., Steig, E. J., & Christianson, K. (2023). Scars of tectonism promote ice-sheet nucleation from Hercules Dome into West Antarctica. Nature Geoscience. (doi:10.1038/s41561-023-01265-5)

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