A new look inside the ice sheet validates predictions that it probably won’t melt as quickly as its neighbor—good news, since East Antarctica contains enough water to raise sea levels by 200 feet.
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In the first such continent-wide survey, scientists have found extensive drainages of meltwater flowing over parts of Antarctica’s ice during the brief summer. Many of the newly mapped drainages are not new, but the fact they exist at all is significant; they appear to proliferate with small upswings in temperature, so warming projected for this century could quickly magnify their influence on sea level.
If just the West Antarctic Ice Sheet were to melt, it would raise global sea level by 6 meters. That’s more than a theoretical problem. West Antarctica is losing ice mass, and scientists are worried.
After a surprisingly smooth crossing of the Southern Ocean, with favorable winds we arrived back in Hobart, Tasmania. The weather maps show that we just got ahead of another big storm system.
In addition to understanding potential pathways for “warmer” circumpolar deep water to reach the ice shelf, we are also measuring what the structure and properties of the water column are and determining if there is already warmer water on or near the continental shelf that could already interact with the glaciers of East Antarctica today.
One of the goals of this expedition is to investigate if water from the Southern Ocean with temperatures above the melting point of glaciers could reach the glaciers in East Antarctica, and if there are any obstacles on the seafloor of the shelf that impact the ability of such water to reach the glaciers and ice streams.
Several days ago we reached our main work areas along the margin of East Antarctica. Our expedition is relatively late in the season and the seas around Antarctica are starting to freeze.
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory scientist Robin Bell will participate in a Google+ Hangout hosted by the White House on Tuesday, April 22 at 4:00 p.m. EDT. Bell, who will join the Hangout from New Zealand, is a polar scientist who studies sub-glacial lakes, ice sheet dynamics and tectonics in Earth’s polar regions.
In 2009 it was just a dream. But creative vision, sweat equity, good partnerships and funding can bring dreams to reality, and 2013 delivered. It was four years ago that a small team of Lamont scientists, polar geophysicist Robin Bell, engineer Nick Frearson and ocean climate physicist Chris Zappa, began discussions of an instrument that could be used to collect measurements on polar ice during routine field-support flights in both the Arctic and Antarctic. It’s called the IcePod.
The Columbia Climate Center led PoLAR Climate Change Education Partnership receives a $5.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), one of six awards under the Climate Change Education Partnership-Phase II program.