Monday, December 17, 2007
Life Beneath the Ice Caps
Research provides new evidence of subglacial lake systems
Scripps Institution of Oceanography / University of California, San Diego
American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2007
Pivotal studies of polar ice caps reveal an intricate subglacial lake system that moves large volumes of water beneath the Antarctic ice sheet. Research conducted by scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego provides new insight into the previously unidentified processes occurring under the Antarctic ice sheet and its potential to harbor unique life forms.
Scripps Oceanography Research Professor Helen Amanda Fricker will discuss details of her research, titled "Subglacial Plumbing Mapped from Space: Water Transfer, Water Volumes and Implications for Ice Dynamics" during an invited talk at the 2007 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting.
Fricker and her research team analyzed satellite data to document the long-distance movement of subglacial waters that occurs under the fast-flowing ice streams to the grounding line, where the waters reach the Southern Ocean. This research reveals new evidence of subglacial lakes draining into each other and their role in initiating fast ice stream flow in the upper glacier catchments, where the water collects in the natural drainage system.
Helen Amanda Fricker, Scripps associate research geophysicist
"Understanding Antarctica's complex subglacial plumbing is of critical importance to monitor the entire ice sheet system and its potential for change," said Fricker.
The Antarctic ice sheet is one of only two polar ice caps on Earth. Ice streams are components of the ice sheet that move faster than surrounding ice and may be up to 50 kilometers (31 miles) wide and 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) thick, stretching for hundreds of kilometers. The ice streams are responsible for transporting most of the ice leaving the continent to the floating ice shelves and, ultimately, to the ocean.
Monitoring subglacial outflows from the ice sheet margins is also important for quantifying the freshwater input to the ocean and understanding ice-ocean interactions. Discovery of lakes close to the grounding line, where there are no downstream lakes, provides an opportunity for exploration without the risk of contaminating other lakes.
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Scripps Institution of Oceanography, at University of California, San Diego, is one of the oldest, largest and most important centers for global science research and education in the world. The National Research Council has ranked Scripps first in faculty quality among oceanography programs nationwide Now in its second century of discovery, the scientific scope of the institution has grown to include biological, physical, chemical, geological, geophysical and atmospheric studies of the earth as a system. Hundreds of research programs covering a wide range of scientific areas are under way today in 65 countries. The institution has a staff of about 1,300, and annual expenditures of approximately $155 million from federal, state and private sources. Scripps operates one of the largest U.S. academic fleets with four oceanographic research ships and one research platform for worldwide exploration.
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