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This project will investigate the marine component of the Totten Glacier and Moscow University Ice Shelf, East Antarctica. This system is of critical importance because it drains one-eighth of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet and contains a volume equivalent to nearly 7 meters of potential sea level rise, greater than the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet. This nearly completely unexplored region is the single largest and least understood marine glacial system that is potentially unstable. Despite intense scrutiny of marine based systems in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, little is known about the Totten Glacier system. This study will add substantially to the meager oceanographic and marine geology and geophysics data available in this region, and will significantly advance understanding of this poorly understood glacial system and its potentially sensitive response to environmental change.

Independent, space-based platforms indicate accelerating mass loss of the Totten system. Recent aerogeophysical surveys of the Aurora Subglacial Basin, which contains the deepest ice in Antarctica and drains into the Totten system, have provided the subglacial context for measured surface changes and show that the Totten Glacier has been the most significant drainage pathway for at least two previous ice flow regimes. However, the offshore context is far less understood. Limited physical oceanographic data from the nearby shelf/slope break indicate the presence of Modified Circumpolar Deep Water within a thick bottom layer at the mouth of a trough with apparent access to Totten Glacier, suggesting the possibility of sub-glacial bottom inflow of relatively warm water, a process considered to be responsible for West Antarctic Ice Sheet grounding line retreat. This project will conduct a ship-based marine geologic and geophysical survey of the region, combined with a physical oceanographic study, in order to evaluate both the recent and longer-term behavior of the glacial system and its relationship to the adjacent oceanographic system. This endeavor will complement studies of other Antarctic ice shelves, oceanographic studies near the Antarctic Peninsula, and ongoing development of ice sheet and other ocean models.

This project is supported by the United States National Science Foundation, Division of Polar Programs, Antarctic Integrated System Science.

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