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

WHO: Anti-Ebola Efforts Should Focus on West Africa

Official says WHO is 'reasonably confident' countries bordering those hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak are not seeing the virus crossing their borders More

South Sudan Crisis Threatens Development

Economic costs and lost development opportunities in South Sudan have erased what little progress the country has made since independence in 2011 More

Ukrainian PM Warns: Russia May Try to Disrupt Sunday Poll

Arseniy Yatsenyuk orders full security mobilization for parliamentary election to prevent ‘terrorist acts’ from being carried out 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.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid