2018-2019 Science Planning Summaries
United States Antarctic Program United States Antarctic Program Logo National Science Foundation Logo
2018-2019 USAP Field Season
Project Detail

Project Title

Antarctic firn aquifers: Extent, characteristics, and comparison with Greenland occurrences

A hot-ring core system will explore two Antarctic ice shelves for sub-surface water-soaked snow. Layers like this could make ice shelves, and the glaciers that flow into them, less stable.
Photo by: Clement Miege
I-344-E Research Location(s): Wilkins Ice Shelf / George VI Ice Shelf


Event Number:
NSF/OPP Award 1745116

Program Manager:
Dr. Paul Cutler

ASC POC/Implementer:
Samina Ouda / Cara Ferrier

Principal Investigator(s)

Dr. Theodore Scambos
University of Colorado Boulder
Boulder, Colorado


Supporting Stations: Special Project
Research Locations: Wilkins Ice Shelf / George VI Ice Shelf


Researchers will investigate areas in the Antarctic Peninsula where water from summer melting of snow drains down into the deeper snow (firn) and remains as a water-flooded snow layer throughout the Antarctic winter. These zones are called firn aquifers. The project aims to confirm indications from satellite data that these areas exist on the Wilkins Ice Shelf and the George VI Ice Shelf coast. Persistent water in the upper layers of an ice shelf can destabilize the ice shelf and cause it to fracture and disintegrate or, on a non-floating ice sheet, can cause it to flow faster by draining to the bottom of the ice and reducing the friction between bedrock and glacier. Under warmer conditions in the future, the extent of these firn aquifer areas could spread to regions in front of major outlet glaciers.

Field Season Overview

This year's field plan is centered on shallow ice-core drilling to about 60 m at the southern Wilkins Ice Shelf and the southern George VI Ice Shelf. These regions had the strongest modeled signal from the scatterometry data of perennial firn aquifers. In addition to drilling one or two cores at each of the sites, researchers will conduct ground-penetrating-radar surveys of the area around the cores (about 60 line-km at each site) to determine the varying depth and extent of the aquifers. They will also install weather stations at each site (automated meteorology-ice-geophysics observing stations, AMIGOS) similar to those installed for the Larsen B LARISSA project, with a sensor array that will measure weather, snow temperature and accumulation, and melt-season duration and intensity. As part of the ice coring, the researchers will also measure snow density and temperature in recovered ice.

Deploying Team Members

  • Clement Miege
  • Julie Miller (Co-PI)
  • Theodore Scambos (PI)
  • Bruce Wallin