Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

International team to drill beneath massive Antarctic ice shelf

Date:
November 10, 2011
Source:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Summary:
An international team of researchers funded by NASA and the U.S. National Science Foundation will travel next month to one of Antarctica's most active, remote and harsh spots to determine how changes in the waters circulating under an active ice sheet are causing a glacier to accelerate and drain into the sea.

Robert Bindschadler, an emeritus glaciologist with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, was the first person to ever walk on the Pine Island Glacier ice shelf, in January 2008.
Credit: NASA

An international team of researchers funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) will travel next month to one of Antarctica's most active, remote and harsh spots to determine how changes in the waters circulating under an active ice sheet are causing a glacier to accelerate and drain into the sea.

Related Articles


The science expedition will be the most extensive ever deployed to Pine Island Glacier. It is the area of the ice-covered continent that concerns scientists most because of its potential to cause a rapid rise in sea level. Satellite measurements have shown this area is losing ice and surrounding glaciers are thinning, raising the possibility the ice could flow rapidly out to sea.

The multidisciplinary group of 13 scientists, led by Robert Bindschadler, emeritus glaciologist of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., will depart from the McMurdo Station in Antarctica in mid-December and spend six weeks on the ice shelf. During their stay, they will use a combination of traditional tools and sophisticated new oceanographic instruments to measure the shape of the cavity underneath the ice shelf and determine how streams of warm ocean water enter it, move toward the very bottom of the glacier and melt its underbelly.

"The project aims to determine the underlying causes behind why Pine Island Glacier has begun to flow more rapidly and discharge more ice into the ocean," said Scott Borg, director of NSF's Division of Antarctic Sciences, the group that coordinates all U.S. research in Antarctica. "This could have a significant impact on global sea-level rise over the coming century."

Scientists have determined the interaction of winds, water and ice is driving ice loss from the floating glacier. Gusts of increasingly stronger westerly winds push cold surface waters away from the continent, allowing warmer waters that normally hover at depths below the continental shelf to rise. The upwelling warm waters spill over the border of the shelf and move along the sea floor, back to where the glacier rises from the bedrock and floats, causing it to melt.

The warm salty waters and fresh glacier melt water combine to make a lighter mixture that rises along the underside of the ice shelf and moves back to the open ocean, melting more ice on its way. How much more ice melts is what the team wants to find out, so it can improve projections of how the glacier will melt and contribute to sea-level rise.

In January 2008, Bindschadler was the first person to set foot on this isolated corner of Antarctica as part of initial reconnaissance for the expedition. Scientists had doubted it was even possible to reach the crevasse-ridden ice shelf. Bindschadler used satellite imagery to identify an area where helicopters could land safely to transport scientists and instrumentation to and from the ice shelf.

"The Pine Island Glacier ice shelf continues to be the place where the action is taking place in Antarctica," Bindschadler said. "It only can be understood by making direct measurements, which is hard to do. We're doing this hard science because it has to be done. The question of how and why it is melting is even more urgent than it was when we first proposed the project over five years ago."

The team will use a hot water drill to make a hole through the ice shelf. After the drill hits the ocean, the scientists will send a camera down into the cavity to observe the underbelly of the ice shelf and analyze the seabed lying approximately 1,640 feet (500 meters) below the ice. Next the team will lower an instrument package provided by oceanographer Tim Stanton of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey, Calif., into the hole. The primary instrument, called a profiler, will move up and down a cable attached to the seabed, measuring temperature, salinity and currents from approximately 10 feet (3 meters) below the ice to just above the seabed.

A second hole will support a similar instrument array fixed to a pole stuck to the underside of the ice shelf. This instrument will measure how ice and water exchange heat. The team also will insert a string of 16 temperature sensors in the lowermost ice to freeze inside and become part of the ice shelf. The sensors will measure how fast heat is transmitted upward through the ice when hot flushes of water enter the ocean cavity.

Sridhar Anandakrishnan, a geophysicist with Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa., will study the shape of the ocean cavity and the properties of the bedrock under the Pine Island Glacier ice shelf through a technique called reflective seismology, which involves generating waves of energy by detonating small explosions and banging the ice with instruments resembling sledgehammers. Measurements will be taken in about three dozen spots using helicopters to move from one place to another.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. "International team to drill beneath massive Antarctic ice shelf." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 November 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111109194323.htm>.
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. (2011, November 10). International team to drill beneath massive Antarctic ice shelf. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111109194323.htm
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. "International team to drill beneath massive Antarctic ice shelf." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111109194323.htm (accessed December 22, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Monday, December 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Lava Inches Closer to Highway

Raw: Lava Inches Closer to Highway

AP (Dec. 21, 2014) Officials have opened a new road on Hawaii's Big Island for drivers to take care of their daily needs if encroaching lava from Kilauea Volcano crosses a highway and cuts them off from the rest of the island. (Dec. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Cheap Oil Help Fix U.S. Roads?

Could Cheap Oil Help Fix U.S. Roads?

Newsy (Dec. 21, 2014) As falling oil prices boost Americans' spending power, the U.S. government is also gaining flexibility from savings on oil. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Scuba Diving Santa Off Florida Keys

Raw: Scuba Diving Santa Off Florida Keys

AP (Dec. 20, 2014) A scuba diving Santa Claus explored the waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Dive shop owner Spencer Slate makes the dive each year to help raise money for charity. (Dec. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Obama: Better Ways to Create Jobs Than Keystone Pipeline

Obama: Better Ways to Create Jobs Than Keystone Pipeline

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) US President Barack Obama says that construction of the Keystone pipeline would have 'very little impact' on US gas prices and believes there are 'more direct ways' to create construction jobs. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins