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 Fast rising bedrock below West Antarctica reveals an extremely fluid Earth mantle
22.06.2018 | Technical University of Denmark

nachricht Polar ice may be softer than we thought
22.06.2018 | Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Temperature-controlled fiber-optic light source with liquid core

In a recent publication in the renowned journal Optica, scientists of Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT) in Jena showed that they can accurately control the optical properties of liquid-core fiber lasers and therefore their spectral band width by temperature and pressure tuning.

Already last year, the researchers provided experimental proof of a new dynamic of hybrid solitons– temporally and spectrally stationary light waves resulting...

Im Focus: Overdosing on Calcium

Nano crystals impact stem cell fate during bone formation

Scientists from the University of Freiburg and the University of Basel identified a master regulator for bone regeneration. Prasad Shastri, Professor of...

Im Focus: AchemAsia 2019 will take place in Shanghai

Moving into its fourth decade, AchemAsia is setting out for new horizons: The International Expo and Innovation Forum for Sustainable Chemical Production will take place from 21-23 May 2019 in Shanghai, China. With an updated event profile, the eleventh edition focusses on topics that are especially relevant for the Chinese process industry, putting a strong emphasis on sustainability and innovation.

Founded in 1989 as a spin-off of ACHEMA to cater to the needs of China’s then developing industry, AchemAsia has since grown into a platform where the latest...

Im Focus: First real-time test of Li-Fi utilization for the industrial Internet of Things

The BMBF-funded OWICELLS project was successfully completed with a final presentation at the BMW plant in Munich. The presentation demonstrated a Li-Fi communication with a mobile robot, while the robot carried out usual production processes (welding, moving and testing parts) in a 5x5m² production cell. The robust, optical wireless transmission is based on spatial diversity; in other words, data is sent and received simultaneously by several LEDs and several photodiodes. The system can transmit data at more than 100 Mbit/s and five milliseconds latency.

Modern production technologies in the automobile industry must become more flexible in order to fulfil individual customer requirements.

Im Focus: Sharp images with flexible fibers

An international team of scientists has discovered a new way to transfer image information through multimodal fibers with almost no distortion - even if the fiber is bent. The results of the study, to which scientist from the Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology Jena (Leibniz IPHT) contributed, were published on 6thJune in the highly-cited journal Physical Review Letters.

Endoscopes allow doctors to see into a patient’s body like through a keyhole. Typically, the images are transmitted via a bundle of several hundreds of optical...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Munich conference on asteroid detection, tracking and defense

13.06.2018 | Event News

2nd International Baltic Earth Conference in Denmark: “The Baltic Sea region in Transition”

08.06.2018 | Event News

ISEKI_Food 2018: Conference with Holistic View of Food Production

05.06.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Graphene assembled film shows higher thermal conductivity than graphite film

22.06.2018 | Materials Sciences

Fast rising bedrock below West Antarctica reveals an extremely fluid Earth mantle

22.06.2018 | Earth Sciences

Zebrafish's near 360 degree UV-vision knocks stripes off Google Street View

22.06.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>