Aerial EM Survey Reveals Groundwater Systems Beneath Taylor Valley, Antarctica
Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 4:15 PM
The extent of groundwater and its potential habitability in the ice-free regions and along the coastal margins of Antarctica is poorly understood. Here we report on an airborne transient electromagnetic survey in Antarctica, which for the first time produced extensive imagery of subsurface resistivity in Taylor Valley, an ice-free margin of the Ross Sea. Wide zones of low subsurface resistivity were detected that are inconsistent with the typical high resistivity of glacier ice or dry permafrost. These results are interpreted as an indication that water, with sufficiently high solute content to remain unfrozen well below 0°C, temperatures considered within the range suitable for microbial life. The inferred subsurface brines are widespread and form two isolated groundwater systems: a near shore system, which extends from the ocean 18 km inland; and a sub-/proglacial system, which emanates from beneath Taylor Glacier into Lake Bonney and is associated with the discharge from Blood Falls. The brine networks in Taylor Valley challenge the notion that groundwater is negligible in regions of continuous permafrost, and signify the potential for a deep biosphere that is hydrologically and geochemically connected to the marine system and subglacial environments.