Grounding zone subglacial properties from calibrated active-source seismic methods

Huw J. Horgan, Laurine Van Haastrecht, Richard B. Alley, Sridhar Anandakrishnan, Lucas H. Beem, Knut Christianson, Atsuhiro Muto, Matthew R. Siegfried

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The grounding zone of Whillans Ice Stream, West Antarctica, exhibits an abrupt transition in basal properties from the grounded ice to the ocean cavity over distances of less than 0.5-1 km. Active-source seismic methods reveal the downglacier-most grounded portion of the ice stream is underlain by a relatively stiff substrate (relatively high shear wave velocities of 1100 ±430 m s-1) compared to the deformable till found elsewhere beneath the ice stream. Changes in basal reflectivity in our study area cannot be explained by the stage of the tide. Several kilometres upstream of the grounding zone, layers of subglacial water are detected, as are regions that appear to be water layers but are less than the thickness resolvable by our technique. The presence of stiff subglacial sediment and thin water layers upstream of the grounding zone supports previous studies that have proposed the dewatering of sediment within the grounding zone and the trapping of subglacial water upstream of the ocean cavity. The setting enables calibration of our methodology using returns from the floating ice shelf. This allows a comparison of different techniques used to estimate the sizes of the seismic sources, a constraint essential for the accurate recovery of subglacial properties. We find a strong correlation (coefficient of determination = 0.46) between our calibrated method and a commonly used multiple-bounce method, but our results also highlight the incomplete knowledge of other factors affecting the amplitude of seismic sources and reflections in the cryosphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1863-1880
Number of pages18
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 19 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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