Vulnerability of the Ross Ice Shelf: Seismic Site Characterisation and Drilling Recommendation


van Haastrecht, Laurine Nathalie (Laurine)


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The Ross Ice Shelf (RIS) is the largest ice shelf in the world. It buttresses ice flow from both the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). Today the RIS does not appear to be retreating or advancing. Understanding what controls the ice shelf’s stability, and how it may respond to future warming and oceanic change is vital, as its collapse would accelerate global sea level rise. Understanding the rates at which physical processes occurred in the past during ice shelf and ice sheet retreat can improve our models for future climate change. This study aimed to answer two main research questions: first, to characterise seafloor bathymetry and substrates in the vicinity of a future hot water drill site and make informed decisions concerning seafloor coring/sampling locations, and second, to characterise the roughness of the ice shelf’s basal surface. Field work was conducted during the 2015/2016 Antarctic field season as opposed to the 2014/2015 season, after a one year delay due to logistical constraints. As a result, this study focussed on reprocessing previous data, survey design, and modelling, conducted prior to data collection in Antarctica. The preliminary work involved a comparative study between conventional spiked geophone data and snow streamer on data previously collected on the McMurdo Ice Shelf (MIS), and a detailed survey design for the November 2015 survey. Synthetic shot records were generated to test the effect of ice thickness variations. The snow streamer and weight drop seismic source data acquisition system were an effective method of data collection on the RIS. This combined system allowed for rapid data collection, and facilitated the collection of 45.8 km of multichannel seismic reflection data. The seismic data are interpreted to reveal two seismic facies, separated by an erosion surface, of at least 180 m thickness. The upper seismic facies is characterised by two cycles of high-amplitude, mostly continuous, horizontal strata, and the lower facies is characterised by irregular, discontinuous, dipping strata. The two seismic facies and erosion surface are interpreted to reflect the change in glaciation regime that occurred in the late Pliocene (approximately 3 Ma), where the lower sedimentary packages consists of sediments deposited under a warmer, wet-base regime and overlying sediments that were deposited by colder, dry-base glaciers. It is unlikely that deeper bedrock structures were imaged in this study. From the seismic data alone, it is recommended that any future hot water drill site locations are positioned close to the South Pole Overland Traverse (SPOT) road and the 2015 season base camp. The basal ice interface was not imaged distinctly in this study, likely due to the interference of surface waves and the presence of marine ice. It lies within as a seismically opaque zone in the upper 200 ms, after which the signal changes character to low- to moderate-amplitudes in the water column. It is hypothesised that this is due to either the presence of marine ice, surface waves obscuring the reflection, or a combination of the two. The RIS data also display a relatively strong intra-ice multiple (modelled in the synthetic shot records), and contain strong surface waves, which were a significant aspect of the shot records. Due to the nature of collecting data close to the end of this study, several processing and analysis options still need to be investigated for these data including, but not limited to, better analysis of the surface waves and of the intra-ice multiple characterise ice properties, and calculations of reflection and transmission co-efficient values derived from the intra-ice multiple and seafloor.

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173 pages A4


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Open Access

Location (WKT, WGS84):

MULTIPOLYGON (((174.516292314169 -80.7113702485974,170.914290973674 -80.6857239691589,170.772115898609 -79.9224712681925,174.638031600643 -79.9844705027868,174.516292314169 -80.7113702485974)))

Abstract PDF File



van Haastrecht, Laurine Nathalie (Laurine), “Vulnerability of the Ross Ice Shelf: Seismic Site Characterisation and Drilling Recommendation,” Otago Geology Theses, accessed October 22, 2019,