Probing Subglacial Environments Under the Whillans Ice Stream

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Abstract

Water and wet sediments under ice sheets can play an important role in regulating the rate of ice stream flow in Antarctica, particularly over short time scales. Indeed, the discharge of subglacial lakes has been linked to an increase in ice velocity of Byrd Glacier by 10% for 14 months [Stearns et al., 2008], and studies in West Antarctica have shown that subglacial water can significantly influence overall ice stream dynamics [Fricker and Scambos, 2009], particularly at the seaward margin [Pollard and DeConto, 2009].

The subglacial environment of Antarctica also is an unexplored component of the biosphere. Low temperatures, complete darkness, and direct isolation from the atmosphere for millions of years make this one of the most extreme environments on the planet [Priscu et al., 2008]. Additionally, microorganisms beneath the ice sheet may play an important role in mineral weathering of basement rock and sediments, making them likely contributors to geochemical inputs into the surrounding ocean.

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