PAOC Colloquium: Britney Schmidt (Georgia Tech)
|May 8th, 2017
||Ida Green Lounge (9th Floor), Green Building, MIT
Title: Europa in Our Backyard: Exploring Ice-Ocean Interactions of Antarctic Ice Shelves
Abstract: Europa is one of the most enticing targets in the search for life beyond Earth. With an icy outer shell hiding a global ocean, Europa exists in a dynamic environment where immense tides from Jupiter potentially power an active deeper interior and intense radiation and impacts bathe the top of the ice, providing sources of energy that could sustain a biosphere. The detection of plate tectonics on Europa, and evidence for shallow water within the ice implies that rapid ice shell recycling could create a conveyor belt between the ice and ocean. Exchange between Europa's surface and subsurface could allow ocean material to one day be detected by spacecraft and will be mediated by ice-ocean interactions. NASA will launch a mission to Europa in 2021, but while we wait to get there, we are looking to our own cosmic backyard to help us to better understand this enigmatic moon.
Beneath ice shelves on Earth, ice-ocean exchange has been difficult to observe given the harsh environment and thickness of the ice. Here, processes such as accretion, melt and circulation impact ice dynamics and are an important element of the climate system. Thus exploring the cryosphere can form the foundation of our understanding of other ocean worlds. In this presentation, we will explore environments in Antarctica’s McMurdo and Ross Ice Shelves in order to understand the fundamental processes that govern ice-ocean exchange, and consider these as analogs for Europa. I will describe our work to develop and deploy AUV and ROV vehicles, as well as progress constraining the oceanographic interactions below the McMurdo Ice Shelf. In particular, I will highlight constraints on super cooling and platelet ice accretion below and surrounding the ice shelf, as well as its impacts on Antarctic sea ice. This dynamic exchange between the ocean and ice is a key process generally unresolved in models of climate, as well as planetary science. I will also describe our upcoming Ross Ice Shelf program, RISE UP. With these interdisciplinary efforts and new robotic tools, we are working to improve climate and planetary science, and develop techniques for exploring Europa, an ice covered world not so unlike our own.