Featured Scientist:
Mickey M.

Graduate student in Geophysics

Name: Mickey M.

Birthplace: Berkeley, California

Field of Study: Glaciology

Specific research interests?: The water and geology beneath the Antarctic ice sheet

Favorite thing about science: Travelling to remote locations to explore glaciers and geology

Fun Facts: I used to DJ punk music for a radio station

Mickey's Science

"What’s going on under the ice?"

I am a glaciologist, which means I study glaciers and ice sheets. Glaciers are giant, moving bodies of ice that play an important role in the climate system. They make up the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, or can be found in Alaska, Argentina, and the Himalayas. We need to understand glacial processes so we can predict how they will behave in a changing climate and how much sea levels will rise as they melt. An important aspect of glaciers that I study is the environment and conditions at the ice/bedrock interface. Imagine you’re going down a slide. If you add water, you’ll move even faster. If you cover the slide with sandpaper, you’ll move a lot slower (and probably rip your pants). The same is true for glaciers. We study how much water is under the ice, how rough the bedrock is, and how the subglacial environment has changed through history to determine how quickly the ice will slide into the ocean and cause sea levels to rise.

(Me studying a map of Antarctic bed topography. Topographic map from Fretwell et al. (2013).

In Antarctica, the ice can be over 2 miles thick! So how do we see what’s happening beneath it to study the subglacial environment? The most commonly used tool for studying the subsurface is radar. You might be familiar with radar guns that police use to catch people who are speeding. Ice-penetrating radar uses the same technology. Antarctic radar surveys are usually airborne. A radar system attached to a plane will emit electromagnetic waves. These waves travel through the ice and reflect energy back at the plane. The radar system collects this energy and uses it to make pictures (like the one I am studying in this photo here) that show what the ice and bedrock look like. Then we can use this information to develop an understanding of the subsurface environment. I use radar data to build maps of the topography under the ice, find subglacial lakes, and study how the landscape evolves beneath glaciers.

Check out the NASA Operation IceBridge page for more information on Antarctic radar expeditions

What questions is Mickey asking?

There is so much uncertainty regarding glaciers. These are the questions that drive my research:

  • How much of the Antarctic ice sheet has lakes beneath it?

  • How has the subglacial environment changed over time?

  • How do subglacial conditions influence ice sheet behavior?

  • How fragile is the Antarctic ice sheet?


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