Rutford Ice Stream Cooperative Research Program with British Antarctic Survey
Rutford Ice Stream seismicity
This award supports a project to study conditions under the Rutford Ice Stream, a large glacier that flows from the interior of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to the Filchner Ronne Ice Shelf and then on to the ocean. The speed and volume of ice delivered to the ocean by this and similar glaciers is central to the question of sea-level change in the coming decades: if the volume of ice carried by Rutford to the ocean increases, then it will contribute to a rise in sea level. Numerical models of glacier flow that are used to forecast future conditions must include a component that accounts for the sliding of the ice over its bed. The sliding process is poorly modeled because of lack of detailed information about the bottom of glaciers, leading to increased uncertainty in the ice-flow models. Data from this project will provide such information.
During this project, in collaboration with researchers at the British Antarctic Survey, a detailed survey of the properties of the bed of Rutford Ice Stream will be carried out. These surveys include using seismic instruments (which are sensitive to naturally occurring earthquakes within glaciers--called icequakes) to monitor the distribution of those icequakes at the bed. The locations, size, and timing of icequakes are controlled by the properties of the bed such as porosity, water pressure, and stress. As part of this project, a hole will be drilled to the bed of the glacier to monitor water pressures and to extract a sample of the basal material. By comparing the pressure variations with icequake production, the properties of the basal material over a large area can be better determined. Those results will aid in the application of numerical models by informing their description of the sliding process. This award requires field work in Antarctica.
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.
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