Research in Antarctic shows ice sheet is melting

Ivan Kvapil/Sun Star Reporter
Nov. 5, 2013

Scientists lower one a probe into the ice through a hole that the hot water drill has made. These probes will constantly trasmit information back to a facility in Monterey, California about how fast the glacier is melting. Photo taken by Dale Pomraning. Ivan Kvapil / Sun Star

Scientists lower a probe into the ice through a hole that the hot water drill has made. These probes will constantly trasmit information back to a facility in Monterey, California about how fast the glacier is melting. Photo taken by Dale Pomraning. Ivan Kvapil/Sun Star

Three years ago at McMurdo station in Antarctica, Dale Pomraning, a UAF engineer, and other researchers were part of a three-year project putting probes inside Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica to measure how much of the ice was melting. The research project includes five other universities and an international partner. The study has shown that the West Antarctic ice sheet is, in fact, melting and that the pace at which it is melting is accelerating

Pine Island Glacier is an important place to study the melting of the ice shelf, because Pine Island Glacier is a large piece of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet that has broken off and become its own glacial mass. Martin Truffer, a physics professor at UAF, believes that this is because of accelerated ice loss caused by the shrinking of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. This accelerated melting is called the run-away process and can create a cycle of the ice sheets melting faster and faster every year because there is less and less ice in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

This can create a variety of problems, the biggest being a rising sea level which, if left unchecked, can cause mass flooding all over the world.

Researchers measured the melting ice by flying out to Pine Island Glacier from McMurdo station and setting up a hot water drill built by Pomraning.

Researchers shovel snow into containers where the snow turns into hot water that is pumped through a nozzle and sprayed onto the ice melting a hole through the ice shelf. Once the hole is deep enough, they put a pump down the hole and into the water and start pumping water out of the ocean to use in the drill.

The drill takes three to four hours to set up and can go through an 80-gallon barrel of diesel in three hours, meaning that diesel would have to be constantly helicoptered in, according to Pomraning. After a hole is deep enough, the researches would place a probe into the hole specially designed to not only fit in the hole, but to transmit information about the receding ice through a two-way satellite communication that sends the information to offices in Monterey, California.

The research that has been done isn’t very different from other Antarctic research, Truffer said. He said that people should realize the importance of this research and how it shows that, not only are the ice sheets melting, but they are melting faster and will soon become a major problem if not addressed.

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