Polar Seminar: Neil Foley - "Airborne EM Resistivity Reveals Liquid Brines Beneath Permafrost and Glaciers in the Dry Valleys, Antarctica"

04/28/2016 - 2:00pm

Thursday, April 28, 2:00PM
Location: Revelle 4301

Neil Foley
PhD Candidate, University of California, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA

The McMurdo Dry Valleys are a polar desert in coastal Antarctica, where glaciers, permafrost, ice-covered lakes, and ephemeral summer streams coexist. Liquid water is found at the surface only in lakes and in the temporary streams that feed them. Past geophysical exploration has yielded ambiguous results regarding the presence of subsurface water. In 2011, we used a helicopter borne, time-domain electromagnetic (TDEM) sensor to map resistivity in the subsurface across the Dry Valleys. The airborne electromagnetic (AEM) method excels at finding subsurface liquid water in polar deserts, where water remains liquid under cold conditions if it is sufficiently saline, and therefore electrically conductive. Over the course of 26 h of helicopter time, we covered large portions of the Dry Valleys and vastly increased our geophysical understanding of the subsurface, particularly with respect to water. Our data show extensive subsurface low-resistivity layers approximately 150–250 m below the surface and beneath higher resistivity layers. We interpret the low-resistivity layers as geologic materials containing freeze-concentrated or “cryoconcentrated” hypersaline brines lying beneath glaciers and frozen permafrost. These brines appeared to be contiguous with surface lakes, subglacial regions, and the Ross Sea, which could indicate a regional-hydrogeologic system, wherein solutes might be transported between surface reservoirs by ionic diffusion and subsurface flow. The presence of such brines underneath glaciers might have implications for glacier movement. Systems such as this, where brines exist beneath glacial ice and frozen permafrost, may exist elsewhere in coastal Antarctica; AEM resistivity is an ideal tool to find and survey them. Our application of TDEM demonstrates that in polar subsurface environments containing conductive brines, such a diffusive electromagnetic method is superior to radar surveying in terms of depth of penetration and ability to differentiate hydrogeologic conditions.

For more information on this event, contact: 
Matthew Siegfried
Event Calendar: 
Revelle 4301