Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Peering under the ice of a collapsing polar coast

09.10.2009
Low-level aerial surveys aim to understand rapid Antarctic melting

Starting this month, a giant NASA DC-8 aircraft loaded with geophysical instruments and scientists will buzz at low level over the coasts of West Antarctica, where ice sheets are collapsing at a pace far beyond what scientists expected a few years ago. The flights, dubbed Operation Ice Bridge, are an effort by NASA in cooperation with university researchers to image what is happening on, and under, the ice, in order to estimate future sea-level rises that might result.

Since 2003, laser measurements of ice surfaces from NASA's ICESat satellite have shown that vast ice masses in Greenland and West Antarctica are thinning and flowing quickly seaward. Last month, a report in the journal Nature based on the satellite's measurements showed that some parts of the Antarctic area to be surveyed have been sinking 9 meters (27) feet a year; in 2002, one great glacial ice shelf jutting from land over the ocean on the Antarctic Peninsula simply disintegrated and floated away within days.

NASA's satellite reaches the end of its life this year, and another will not go up until 2015; in the interim, Operation Ice Bridge flights will continue and expand upon the satellite mission. In addition to lasers, the plane will carry penetrating radars to measure snow cover and the thickness of ice to bedrock, and a gravity-measuring system run by Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory that will, for the first time, plot the geometry and depth of ocean waters under the ice shelves. The gravity study is seen as key because many scientists believe warm ocean currents may be the main force pulling the ice sheets seaward, melting the undersides of ice shelves and thus removing the buttresses that hold back the far greater masses of ice on land.
"What our colleagues see from modeling of these glaciers is that warm ocean water is providing the thermal energy to melt the ice," said Lamont geophysicist Michael Studinger, a co-leader of the gravity team who will be on some of the flights. "To really understand how the glaciers are going to behave, we need the firsthand measurements of water shape and depth." Earlier this year, an icebreaker cruise co-led by another Lamont scientist, Stan Jacobs, sent an automated submarine to look under the region's Pine Island Glacier, which has been moving forward rapidly in recent years. Its bed, where the ice contacts rock, is below sea level, and scientists are concerned about what would happen if a sudden large movement were to introduce seawater underneath. The plane flights, over some six weeks starting Oct. 15, are aimed at providing a wider-scale picture of Pine Island and other targets.

For each of some 17 flights, the 157-foot DC-8--too big for runways on Antarctic bases--will make an 11-hour round trip from Punta Arenas, Chile, with two-thirds of each trip spent getting to Antarctica. There, the plane will fly survey lines as low as 1,000 feet, some of them along sinuous glacial valleys that may test the nerves of both pilots and scientists. Some flights will investigate the region's open sea ice, which also seems to be in decline. The campaign will cost about $7 million.

"We learned how fast the ice sheets are changing from NASA satellites," said Lamont geophysicist Robin Bell, who is helping lead the project. "These flights are a unique opportunity to see through the ice, and address the question of why the ice sheets are changing."

"A remarkable change is happening on Earth, truly one of the biggest changes in environmental conditions since the end of the ice age," said Tom Wagner, cryosphere program scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington. "It's not an easy thing to observe, let alone predict what might happen next. Studies like this one are key."

Investigators from the University of Washington and University of Kansas will run their own suites of instruments. The scientists and engineers will narrate the progress of the mission on several blogs, including one hosted by NASA, and another by Lamont, as well as via twitter.

Dial-in instructions:
Sonja.r.alexander@nasa.gov
Speakers:
Seelye Martin, chief scientist, University of Washington
William Krabill, physicist, NASA Wallops Flight Center
Thorsten Markus, cryospheric sciences branch, Goddard Space Flight Center
Robin Bell, geophysicist, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Relevant links:
NASA Ice Bridge pages:
http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/ice_bridge/index.html
Lamont Ice Bridge pages:
http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/res/pi/icebridge/
NASA Ice Bridge blog:
http://blogs.nasa.gov/cm/blog/icebridge
Lamont Ice Bridge blog:
http://www.earth.columbia.edu/sections/view/9
Ice Bridge Twitter:
http://twitter.com/IceBridge
Scientist contacts:
Michael Studinger
mstuding@ldeo.columbia.edu 845-365-8598
Robin Bell
robinb@ldeo.columbia.edu 845-365-8827
More information:
Kevin Krajick, Earth Institute Senior Science Writer,
kkrajick@ei.columbia.edu 212-854-9729
Stephen E. Cole, NASA Office of Public Affairs,
Stephen.e.cole@nasa.gov 202-358-0918
The Earth Institute, Columbia University, mobilizes the sciences, education and public policy to achieve a sustainable earth. Through interdisciplinary research among more than 500 scientists in diverse fields, the Institute is adding to the knowledge necessary for addressing the challenges of the 21st century and beyond. With over two dozen associated degree curricula and a vibrant fellowship program, the Earth Institute is educating new leaders to become professionals and scholars in the growing field of sustainable development. We work alongside governments, businesses, nonprofit organizations and individuals to devise innovative strategies to protect the future of our planet. www.earth.columbia.edu

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a member of The Earth Institute, is one of the world's leading research centers seeking fundamental knowledge about the origin, evolution and future of the natural world. More than 300 research scientists study the planet from its deepest interior to the outer reaches of its atmosphere, on every continent and in every ocean. From global climate change to earthquakes, volcanoes, nonrenewable resources, environmental hazards and beyond, Observatory scientists provide a rational basis for the difficult choices facing humankind in the planet's stewardship.

Kevin Krajick | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ei.columbia.edu
http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Seabed mining could destroy ecosystems
23.01.2018 | University of Exeter

nachricht How climate change weakens coral 'immune systems'
23.01.2018 | Ohio State University

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Optical Nanoscope Allows Imaging of Quantum Dots

Physicists have developed a technique based on optical microscopy that can be used to create images of atoms on the nanoscale. In particular, the new method allows the imaging of quantum dots in a semiconductor chip. Together with colleagues from the University of Bochum, scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute reported the findings in the journal Nature Photonics.

Microscopes allow us to see structures that are otherwise invisible to the human eye. However, conventional optical microscopes cannot be used to image...

Im Focus: Artificial agent designs quantum experiments

On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.

We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rutgers scientists discover 'Legos of life'

23.01.2018 | Life Sciences

Seabed mining could destroy ecosystems

23.01.2018 | Earth Sciences

Transportable laser

23.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>