Radio and Electrical Measurements on Glacial Streams

M. E. R. Walford
1987 Journal of Glaciology  
We discuss the suggestion that small underwater transmitters might be used to illuminate the interior of major englacial water channels with radio waves. Once launched, the radio waves would naturally tend to be guided along the channels until attenuated by absorption and by radiative loss. Receivers placed within the channels or at the glacier surface could be used to detect the signals. They would provide valuable information about the connectivity of the water system. The electrical
more » ... electrical conductivity of the water is of crucial importance. A surface stream on Storglaciären, in Sweden, was found, using a low-frequency technique, to have a conductivity of approximately 4 × 10−4 S m−1. Although this is several hundred times higher than the conductivity of the surrounding glacier ice, the contrast is not sufficient to permit us simply to use electrical conductivity measurements to establish the connectivity of englacial water channels. However, the water conductivity is sufficiently small that, under favourable circumstances, radio signals should be detectable after travelling as much as a few hundred metres along an englacial water channel. In a preliminary field experiment, we demonstrated semi quantitatively that radio waves do indeed propagate as expected, at least in surface streams. We conclude that under-water radio transmitters could be of real practical value in the study of the englacial water system, provided that sufficiently robust devices can be constructed. In a subglacial channel, however, we expect the radio range would be much smaller, the environment much harsher, and the technique of less practical value.
doi:10.3189/s0022143000008753 fatcat:3yochhnktngthlmiluawsxuk44