Photo showing Percy pingo, the tallest pingo that we will survey in the 2021 season, with a human at the summit for scale.

Pingo SubTerranean Aquifer Reconnaissance & Reconstruction (Pingo STARR)

Pingo SubTerranean Aquifer Reconnaissance & Reconstruction (Pingo STARR) is a NASA- funded research & analysis program grant supported through the innovative Planetary Science and Technology for Analog Research (PSTAR) program. This program allows planetary scientists to conduct research on Earth that is forward thinking and explores our own planet in ways that address key planetary science questions, develop and/or use compelling technologies, and assess operations scenarios to inspire future planetary missions. Through these grants, our team has also been able to advance Earth science as well as synergize across NASA’s investments, and build towards a systems level understanding of planets as a whole. Our work has primarily focused on the polar regions, which have lessons important for environments across Mars, Europa and other moons, and even the asteroid belt.

Pingo STARR is a NASA-funded program exploring ice-cored hills in the Arctic Tundra called pingos. These hills form from freezing ground water, forming a massive ice mound at the center and uplifting the permafrost. Not only are they found on Earth, but there is strong evidence that they also form on Mars and on the largest body in the asteroid belt and innermost Dwarf Planet, Ceres. Similar physical processes may also be happening on the icy satellites. Partially because of their remote locations, little is really known about pingos even on Earth. Pingo STARR aims to change that. We’re working with a host of cutting-edge geophysical techniques to perform the most in-depth analysis of these features ever attempted here on Earth in an effort to also understand how they may be forming on other planets. What’s more–we’re assessing the kinds of techniques that both robotic missions and one day Astronauts could use to detect and map water resources that could be vital for exploring Mars in particular.
Pingo STARR’s key objectives are to:

  1. Use geophysical techniques such as ground penetrating radar (GPR), capacitively- coupled resistivity sounding (CCR), and transient electromagnetics (TEM) to determine the hydrological and geological structure of large pingos in the North American Arctic.
  2. Assemble the largest comparable and complementary geophysical dataset of pingos collected to date to enable previously impossible analyses into periglacial hydrology.
  3. Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of various geophysical methods for discovering and investigating ground ice phenomena in a planetary analog environment.
  4. Test the feasibility of deploying similar geophysical instrumentation on the surfaces of planets, moon, and asteroids in the future by both human and robotic explorers.

The Pingo STARR Team is:

  • PI: Dr. Britney Schmidt, Georgia Tech
  • Science PI: Dr. Kynan Hughson, Georgia Tech
  • CoIs: Dr. Matthew Siegfried, Dr. Andrei Swidinsky, Dr. John Bradford, CO School of Mines, Dr. Hanna Sizemore, Planetary Science Institute
  • Field Manager: Dr. Enrica Quartini, Georgia Tech
  • Field Team 2021: Dr. Roger Michaelides, CO School of Mines, Dr. Andrew Mullen, Georgia Tech
Ice-cored pingos emerge from permafrost and dot the arctic landscape near Tuktoyaktuk. Photo Credit: https://montecristomagazine.com/travel/northern-canada-ice-road

PINGO STARR

Pingo Star patch

Pingo Starr

Pingo SubTerranean Aquifer Reconnaissance and Reconstruction

Ice-cored pingos emerge from permafrost and dot the arctic landscape near Tuktoyaktuk. Photo Credit: https://montecristomagazine.com/travel/northern-canada-ice-road

Ice-cored pingos emerge from permafrost and dot the arctic landscape near Tuktoyaktuk. (Photo Credit)

Learn More

Focus on Pingos

Mars, Ceres, and the Earth have abundant reserves of ground ice. On Earth, ice-cored mounds known as pingos are important indicators of extant and extinct near-surface groundwater systems, hydrogeologic properties, and local climate.

Right: A look at Ibyuk Pingo in Canada as seen from directly above (image credit – Google Earth).

Plan view look at Ibyuk Pingo in Canada (image credit - Google Earth).
Mackenzie Delta, Pingo, Tuktoyaktuk. Detail of pingo in the Mackenzie Delta with massive injection ice. Photo: Lorenz King, JLU Giessen.de, August 8, 1987

In the Solar System

Spacecraft observations of Mars and Ceres have revealed a variety of deca- to kilometer scale hills with morphological similarities to terrestrial pingos in ice-rich environments. Domes observed on Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto also resemble these ice-cored structures.

Left: Cross section of a pingo in the Mackenzie Delta with massive injection ice. (image credit – Lorenz King, JLU Giessen.de)

Pingo STARR Goals

Pingo STARR will advance human and lander scale geophysical techniques specifically tailored to detect, characterize, and investigate the cryohydrology and genesis of possible pingo-like features on Earth, Mars, and Ceres. This systems-level field campaign will be the most comprehensive to date for any terrestrial pingos, and the first dedicated analysis of pingos from a planetary science perspective. Our science and technology objectives will provide valuable insight into detecting and characterizing ground -ice and -water systems on Mars and Ceres.

Right: A possible pingo candidate on Ceres in perspective.

A possible pingo candidate on Ceres in perspective.

A closer look at Pingos

On Earth, Mars, and Ceres

a) Oblique view of the ~50 m tall Ibyuk Pingo, Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, Canada (image credit - CBC). (b) Plan view look at Ibyuk Pingo (image credit - Google Earth). (c) Pingo candidate on Mars (image credit NASA/JPL/UA/MRO/HiRISE). (d) Two pingo candidates on Ceres (image citation NASA/JPL/Dawn)

a) Oblique view of the ~50 m tall Ibyuk Pingo, Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, Canada (image credit – CBC). (b) A look at Ibyuk Pingo in Canada as seen from directly above (image credit – Google Earth). (c) Pingo candidate on Mars (image credit NASA/JPL/UA/MRO/HiRISE). (d) Two pingo candidates on Ceres (image citation NASA/JPL/Dawn)

Surveying Pingos

In Alaska and Canada

Sketches of our geophysical systems. (a) shows the electrical potential created by the capactively-coupled resistivity transmitter. (b) shows transmitted and reflected radar waves. (c) ground currents from a transient electromagnetic transmitter measured by the receiver loop.

The PingoSTARR team will survey with conductivity (a/b), radar (c/d), and magnetotellurics (e/f) to map ice & water below pingos in Alaska and Canada. (a/b) shows the electrical potential created by the capactively-coupled resistivity transmitter. (c/d) shows transmitted and reflected radar waves. (e/f) ground currents from a transient electromagnetic transmitter measured by the receiver loop.

Primary Investigators

Britney Schmidt

Britney Schmidt

Georgia Institute of Technology

Kynan Hughston​

Kynan Hughson

Georgia Institute of Technology

Matthew Siegfried​

Matthew Siegfried

Colorado School
of Mines

Andrei Swidinsky​

Andrei Swidinsky

Colorado School
of Mines

John Bradford​

John Bradford

Colorado School
of Mines

Hanna Sizemore​

Hanna Sizemore

Planetary Science Institute

Acknowledgements

Pingo STARR is a four-year (2020-2024) field campaign funded through NASA’s Planetary Science and Technology through Analog Research (PSTAR) program.