A Breathtaking But Fragile Landscape
Michael Studinger, Instrument Co-Principal Investigator, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory:
PUNTA ARENAS, Chile–The weather forecast for our survey over the Larsen C Ice Shelf looks good. Given the difficult weather over the past couple of days this is a welcome change. After studying satellite images and computer models and talking to the meteorologist at the Punta Arenas airport we decide to fly. We will follow the flow of ice from Antarctica’s interior to the ocean where the ice breaks into icebergs and eventually melts.
The flight will take us through an almost complete tour of the Antarctic cryosphere. Our tour begins over the small ice caps of the Antarctic Peninsula. The snow and ice that forms these ice caps eventually flows downhill through steep valleys, reaching glaciers and ice streams.
I am seated in the cockpit behind our two pilots to get a better view of the scenery. We are descending into a steep valley filled with ice on its way to the remnants of the Larsen B Ice Shelf that broke apart a few years ago. The ice here forms a huge floating surface that appears endless. Warm seawater lies below the ice; we are here to study how it melts the ice shelf.
The ice flowing into the valleys is pushing the ice shelves away. Eventually huge ice chunks break off to form icebergs. Our next survey line takes us to the edge of the ice shelf where several gigantic icebergs can be seen floating in the distance, along with pools of open water. After crisscrossing what’s left of Larsen C we head back to the crest of the Antarctic Peninsula and repeat a different survey line. Each time I look out of the window I see a breathtaking but fragile landscape.