West Antarctic sites for subglacial drilling to test for past ice-sheet collapse
Abstract. Mass loss from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is increasing, and there is concern that an incipient large-scale deglaciation of the marine basins may already be underway. Measurements of cosmogenic nuclides in subglacial bedrock surfaces have the potential to establish whether and when the marine-based portions of the WAIS deglaciated in the past. However, because most of the bedrock revealed by ice-sheet collapse would remain below sea level, shielded from the cosmic-ray flux, drill sites for subglacial sampling must be located in areas where thinning of the residual ice sheet would expose presently subglacial bedrock surfaces. In this paper we discuss the criteria and considerations for choosing drill sites where subglacial samples will provide maximum information about WAIS extent during past interglacial periods. We evaluate candidate sites in West Antarctica and find that sites located adjacent to the large marine basins of West Antarctica will be most diagnostic of past ice-sheet collapse. There are important considerations for drill site selection on the kilometer scale that can only be assessed by field reconnaissance. As a case study of these considerations, we describe reconnaissance at sites in West Antarctica, focusing on the Pirrit Hills, where in the summer of 2016–2017 an 8 m bedrock core was retrieved from below 150 m of ice.