Abstract

I review current understanding of the low-frequency electrical properties of glaciers and ice sheets, and identify future research directions that challenge near-surface geophysicists and glaciologists. In cold ice electrical conduction occurs principally via [a] movement of protonic point defects in the lattice in low-impurity ice; [b] networks of impurities at grain boundaries in ice of moderate impurity content; and [c] triple junctions and grain boundaries in ice of high impurity content. I infer that in temperate ice Archie-type conduction is likely dominant. Arrhenius and Looyenga type models, respectively, describe well the increase in bulk resistivity with decreasing ice temperature and density. The activation energy in cold ice and firn is constant at ∼0.25 eV but poorly constrained in temperate ice and snow. The bulk resistivity of cold ice ranges from ∼0.4 × 105 Ωm at −2°C to 4 × 105 Ωm at −58°C, and is much higher in temperate ice (up to >1,000 × 105 Ωm). The effects of impurity characteristics, temperature, and density on complex conductivity are poorly understood, although selected real conductivity components apparently increase with frequency, impurity concentration, or temperature. Future research should exploit more rigorously low-frequency electrical techniques in the field and laboratory, and develop or adapt from other areas of electrical geophysics novel mathematical and statistical concepts for joint data inversion and integration, for glaciological purposes such as ice core logging and investigations of glacier dynamics, ice fracturing, and glacier hydrology. I conclude that low-frequency electrical techniques have unduly been neglected in glaciology as compared with higher-frequency radar techniques over the past few decades, suggesting opportunities for concerted research efforts into these techniques.

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