An international team including scientists from Georgia Tech captured new images and first-of-its-kind data from deep beneath an Antarctic glacier. This aims to help scientists better understand the impact of one of Antarctica’s fastest changing regions and its impact on future sea level rise.
Stationed in Antarctica for the last two months, the MELT (Melting at Thwaites grounding zone and its control on sea level) team, part of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, launched ocean instruments and cored sediments to collect data on one of the most important and hazardous glaciers in Antarctica.
The MELT team included Georgia Tech scientists who used an underwater robot named Icefin to navigate the waters beneath Thwaites Glacier and collect data from the grounding zone – the area where the glacier meets the sea.
Dr. Britney Schmidt, lead scientist for Icefin and associate professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, said the new data represented several firsts for her team, as well as for science as a whole.
We designed Icefin to be able to finally enable access to grounding zones of glaciers, places where observations have been nearly impossible, but where rapid change is taking place. We’re proud of Icefin, since it represents a new way of looking at glaciers and ice shelves. For really the first time, we can drive miles under the ice to measure and map processes we can’t otherwise reach. We’ve taken the first close-up look at a grounding zone. It’s our ‘walking on the moon’ moment
Located in a remote part of Antarctica, the MELT team used hot water to drill through up to 2,300 feet of ice to get to the ocean and the seafloor below. On Jan. 9 and 10, Icefin swam more than a mile from the drill site to the Thwaites grounding zone, to measure, image, and map the glacier’s melting and gather other important data that scientists can use to understand the changing landscape and conditions.
The team managed to put one Icefin robot down the borehole at Thwaites Glacier, as well as a second Icefin vehicle in collaboration with Antarctica New Zealand near the grounding zone of Kamb Ice Stream, part of the Ross Ice Shelf.
Thwaites Glacier, which covers an area the size of Florida, is susceptible to climate and ocean changes. Thwaites melting accounts for about 4% of global sea level rise, and the amount of ice flowing out of Thwaites and its neighbouring glaciers has nearly doubled in the past 30 years, making it one of Antarctica’s most rapidly changing regions.