During the austral summers of 1976–77 and 1978–79, several ice cores were taken from the McMurdo Ice Shelf brine zone to investigate its thermal, physical, and chemical properties. This brine zone consists of a series of superimposed brine layers (waves) that originate at the seaward edge of the ice shelf and migrate at various rates, depending on their age and position in the ice shelf. The brine in these layers becomes increasingly concentrated as the waves migrate inland through the permeable ice-shelf firn. Chemical analyses of brine samples from the youngest (uppermost) brine wave show that, except for the advancing front, it contains sea salts in normal sea-water proportions. Further inland, deeper and older brine layers, though highly saline (S > 200°/00), are severely depleted in SO4
2-, with the SO4
2-/Na+ ratio being an order of magnitude less than that of normal sea-water. Consideration of the solubility of alternative salts, together with analyses of Na+, K+, Ca2+, Mg2+, SO4
2-, and Cl- concentrations, shows that the sulfate depletion is probably due to selective precipitation of mirabilite, Na2SO4·10H2O. The location of the inland boundary of brine penetration is closely related to the depth at which the brine encounters the firn/ice transition. However, a small but measureable migration of brine is still occurring in otherwise impermeable ice; this is attributed to eutectic dissolution of the ice by concentrated brine as it moves into deeper and warmer parts of the McMurdo Ice Shelf.