Tim Elam

Principal Physicist

EIS Department


Dale Winebrenner

Senior Principal Physicist

PSC Department


Research Professor, Astrobiology Program and Earth & Space Sciences



APL-UW Ice Diver

A Thermal Ice Penetrator

The Ice Diver melts its way through ice with electrical heating; it's like a rocket going down instead of up.

To make it to the base of the kilometer-thick Greenland Ice Sheet, the probe will have to descend at 10 meters per hour. It will allow scientists to put sensors at the base of ice sheets to measure meltwater pressures.

Subglacial Hydrology

Autonomous, Low-Cost Instrument


At the base of the Greenland Ice Sheet, liquid water acts as a lubricant to ease and speed the flow of ice over the bed. These subglacial hydrological networks evolve in response to input from surface melt water. The pressure of water beneath the ice sheet is the single most important dynamic and diagnostic variable in the network.

There are very few field measurements of pressure (or any other subglacial parameter) beneath ice sheets because of the sheer difficulty in deploying instruments to the environment. Existing ice drilling technology requires tons of equipment and fuel, and a large crew. Thermal probes like the Ice Diver melt their way autonomously, vertically down through the ice. An electric wire that spools out from the vehicle as it descends connects to a modest generator on the surface. Water above the vehicle refreezes, so the transit is one way.

During summer 2013 the Ice Diver will be deployed on the Greenland Ice Sheet to a depth of 600–1000 m in the ice where it will acquire basal water pressure data. This will serve as a proof-of-concept. It is conceived that future development of the Ice Diver would enable temperature, turbidity, major ion concentration, water flow velocity, and other measurements at the base of ice sheets in Greenland as well as Antarctica.