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

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll 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.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs