Radar-detected englacial debris in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle



External departments

  • Newcastle University
  • Stanford University
  • University of Edinburgh
  • Imperial College London


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10454-10462
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number17-18
Early online date10 Sep 2019
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sep 2019
Publication type

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


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 lee side 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 x109 kg of englacial sediment in Horseshoe Valley alone suggest that the ice sheet has significant entrainment potential unappreciated previously.

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