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Undergraduate Research Project Management System

Unfrozen Water Found in Antarctic Soils

Status Complete
Seeking Researchers No
Start Date 05/01/2011
End Date 09/01/2011
Funding Source Discovery Grant
Funding Amount
Community Partner
Related Course
Last Updated 09/21/2011 10:37PM
Keywords ice, antarctic, nuclear magnetic spectroscopy


  Liliya Vugmeyster

Student Researchers
  Tien Do


With the discovery of ice beneath layers of soil on Mars from NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, scientists were able to generate more studies to support their theories of previous life on Mars. These subsurface liquid waters are analogous to the subsurface waters found in Antarctica. This ice is very critical in the formation of land and landscape and the habitat that many of the Antarctic animals thrive. But with global warming becoming an imminent world scale issue, many people are concerned with whether this ice is retreating or growing—shifting equilibrium in the temperatures and habits of many organisms.

According to previous models on water and its survival mechanisms within Antarctica's Dry Valleys, ice should not be stable, but should be receding. However, it was discovered decimeters from the surface. Since the ice and water did not follow this proposed model, there must have been other factors that allowed it to survive and form within such a dry and arid climate.

In this study, Dr. Vugmeyster and myself plan to investigate the amount of unfrozen water in frozen soil samples and factors contributing to the existence of water. Unfrozen water content in frozen soil samples typically exists in soils that are enriched with carbon and other organic components. However, Antarctic soils are invariably different from glacial environments. Antarctica soils have higher salt concentrations—contributing to lower concentrations of organic matter. With such low concentrations of organic matter, it becomes more difficult for scientists to study the impact they have on the glacial environment and the biogeochemical cycle. Special methodology has been designed to look at the characteristic of unfrozen water. The instrument used is Nuclear Magnetic spectroscopy (NMR), which utilizes an interaction of magnetic field with matter. This technique has many uses in the scientific field when it comes to finding chemical structures, and measuring concentrations. NMR has been used in previous studies involving the measurement of unfrozen water concentration at temperatures below the freezing point. We plan to work with deuterium nuclei, a heavier component compared to hydrogen nuclei. Deuterium nuclei are known to give more pronounced signals from water compared to ice.

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