Radar-detected englacial debris in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet

Kate Winter, John Woodward, Neil Ross, Stuart Dunning, Andrew Hein, Matt Westoby, Riley Culberg, Shasta Marrero, Dustin Schroeder, David Sugden, Martin Siegert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
53 Downloads (Pure)


Structural glaci-geological processes can entrain basal sediment into ice, leading to its transportation and deposition downstream. Sediments potentially rich in essential nutrients, like silica and iron, can thus be transferred from continental sources to the ocean, where deposition could enhance marine primary productivity. However, a lack of data has limited our knowledge of sediment entrainment, transfer, and distribution in Antarctica, until now. We use ice-penetrating radar to examine englacial sediments in the Weddell Sea sector of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Radargrams reveal englacial reflectors on the leeside of nunataks and subglacial highlands, where Mie scattering analysis of the reflectors suggests particle sizes consistent with surface moraine sediments. We hypothesize that these sediments are entrained at the thermal boundary between cold and warm-based ice. Conservative estimates of >130 × 10 9 kg of englacial sediment in Horseshoe Valley alone suggest that the ice sheet has significant entrainment potential unappreciated previously.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10454-10462
Number of pages9
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number17-18
Early online date10 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sept 2019


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