News / USA

Scientists to Drill Huge Hole in Antarctic Ice

Study Helps Predict Sea Level Rise in Polar Region

A massive crack running about 29 kilometers across Pine Island glacier’s floating tongue, taken during flight over region late October 2011.
A massive crack running about 29 kilometers across Pine Island glacier’s floating tongue, taken during flight over region late October 2011.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

Antarctica is the largest reservoir of glacial ice on the planet. An expedition of international scientists is headed to the frozen continent to study why its glaciers are retreating so fast.

What they find could help predict Antarctica’s anticipated big melt more accurately, a consequence of climate change that will significantly raise global sea levels over the coming century.   

The focus is Pine Island Glacier, a mass of ice 2,300 square kilometers across and 500 meters deep. Melting in this region of western Antarctica is responsible for seven percent of the recorded sea level rise over the past few years.  

Near U.S. Antarctic McMurdo station scientists practice lowering the ocean profiler down a hole into the ocean beneath the ice.
Near U.S. Antarctic McMurdo station scientists practice lowering the ocean profiler down a hole into the ocean beneath the ice.

Team leader and U.S. Space Agency glaciologist Robert Bindschadler says, “This is where Antarctica is hemorrhaging ice and raising sea level.” Pine Island Glacier is melting most rapidly underneath its ice shelf that sticks out into the ocean, Bindschadler says. “And we’re anticipating melt rates of, in some places, of over 100 meters per year, which are just phenomenally high.”  

Bindschadler says the melt is triggered by the interaction of wind, water and ice, with heat rising from a cavity beneath the ice sheet. He says while satellites can map the glacier and chart its movement, they cannot measure what is going on under the ice shelf and in the cavity.

“The details of this we do not know. That’s what our measurements are going to tell us,” he says.

To gather data on water circulation, currents and ice flow in the ocean cavity, the team must first drill a hole in the ice. Naval Postgraduate School oceanographer Timothy Stanton says given the extreme conditions that prevail in Antarctica, the drilling is done with lo-tech simplicity.

A field test of the drilling system near McMurdo station during the 2010-11 Antarctic field season.
A field test of the drilling system near McMurdo station during the 2010-11 Antarctic field season.

“Basically this system makes a 27-centimeter-diameter hole through this 500-meter-thick ice shelf, using pumped hot water. In a sense it’s very primitive. It’s a very labor intensive, simple system because we had to be light and portable to get this far into the deep field.”

After the drill hits water, the scientists will send a camera down to observe the underbelly of the ice shelf and the seabed below it. Stanton says the team will also deploy a profiler, a device that moves up and down on a tight cable and can measure temperature, salinity and currents from below the ice to just above the sea floor.

“Then using precision depth sensors and an altimeter we can infer directly the local melt rates of the ice sheet above us. This warming is hypothesized to change the strength of the ice shelf and is very important for modeling the actual glacial properties of the ice shelf over time.”

In 2008, expedition leader Robert Bindschadler was the first to set foot on the Pine Island Glacier ice shelf.
In 2008, expedition leader Robert Bindschadler was the first to set foot on the Pine Island Glacier ice shelf.

A similar instrument array fixed to a pole will be attached to the underside of the ice shelf in a second hole. The team will determine the shape of the ocean cavity with sonar equipment. They plan to set off small explosions and bang on the ice with instruments like sledgehammers, and follow the sound waves as they echo back through the ice, water column and bed rock.

Pine Island Glacier is located 2,200 kilometers from the nearest neighbor at the U.S. McMurdo research station. The station will be powered by wind generators, solar panels, and a bank of lithium batteries that Stanton says will allow his research colleagues back at the Naval Postgraduate School in San Diego, California to maintain communications with the expedition. “And every day can modify the sampling strategy.”

The expedition is funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. space agency, NASA. Oceanographer Stanton says the findings can help improve the accuracy of climate models for predicting ice sheet melt and sea level rise in the most rapidly changing environment on the planet.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More