An underwater robot named Icefin that has gone where no submersible has gone before — to the underbelly of Antarctica's "Doomsday Glacier" — has uncovered unusually warm temperatures there.
The hunk of ice, officially known as the Thwaites Glacier, earned its ominous nickname because it is one of Antarctica's fastest melting glaciers. Even so, scientists were surprised to learn that waters at the ground line, the region where the glacier meets the sea, are more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above the normal freezing temperature, according to news reports.
"Warm waters in this part of the world, as remote as they may seem, should serve as a warning to all of us about the potential dire changes to the planet brought about by climate change," David Holland, a lead researcher on the expedition and director of the Environmental Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at New York University, told the Chicago Tribune.
The journey to collect this data wasn't easy. Scientists dropped the torpedo-shaped Icefin through a 2,300-foot-deep (700 meters) hole they had drilled through the glacier.
"We're proud of Icefin, since it represents a new way of looking at glaciers and ice shelves," Britney Schmidt, lead scientist for Icefin and an associate professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech, said in a statement. "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." The grounding zone is the region where the underside of the glacier meets the seawater beneath it.
The team, dubbed MELT, or Melting at Thwaites grounding zone and its control on sea level, spent the last two months in minus 22 F (minus 30 C) weather at the glacier for the project. After descending the nearly half-mile hole through the glacier, Icefin swam more than a mile to the grounding zone. As it puttered along, Icefin took measurements and images so that scientists could later map the area, as well as understand the temperatures and the changing landscape there.
Thwaites Glacier, roughly the size of Florida, is melting at an increasingly fast rate. Its melt already accounts for about 4% of global sea rise, Georgia Tech reported. The amount of ice flowing out of Thwaites and the adjacent glaciers into the sea has doubled in the past 30 years, making it one of the fastest-changing areas of Antarctica.
Moreover, Thwaites is crucial to Antarctica because it slows the ice behind it from freely flowing into the ocean. The glacier's ice shelf, or its permanent floating ice sheets, act like dirt in a clogged drain, impeding the glacier from flowing full force into the ocean, Stef Lhermitte, an assistant professor in the Department of Geoscience and Remote Sensing at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, previously told Live Science.
"We know that warmer ocean waters are eroding many of West Antarctica's glaciers, but we're particularly concerned about Thwaites," Keith Nicholls, an oceanographer with the British Antarctic Survey and the United Kingdom lead on the MELT team, said in the Georgia Tech statement. "This new data will provide a new perspective of the processes taking place, so we can predict future change with more certainty."
In addition to deploying Icefin, the researchers sent out ocean instruments and took sediment cores. The team even sent out a second Icefin vehicle to another location — the Ross Ice Shelf — in collaboration with Antarctica New Zealand.
The work was shown as a BBC World News special report yesterday (Jan. 28) as part of the 200th anniversary of Antarctica's discovery. In the meantime, the researchers are still analyzing the data from Icefin and plan to publish their findings in March, according to The New York Times.
- Photo gallery: Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier cracks
- In photos: Huge icebergs break off Antarctica
- Photographic proof of climate change: Time-lapse images of retreating glaciers
Originally published on Live Science.
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Laura is the archaeology and Life's Little Mysteries editor at Live Science. She also reports on general science, including paleontology. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Scholastic, Popular Science and Spectrum, a site on autism research. She has won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association for her reporting at a weekly newspaper near Seattle. Laura holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and a master's degree in science writing from NYU.
It is only a surprise to these frauds calling themselves scientists. There is no threat and this Doomsday Glacier is just a feeble attempt at fear mongering. There is no Doomsday anything and there is no climate crisis anywhere on this planet, at this time.Reply
Hi Rodkeh, can you present your data and or measurements, just saying it's not true may work with some folks but as an Engineer I need data.Reply
Can you give us the meaning of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics?Zsport said:Hi Rodkeh, can you present your data and or measurements, just saying it's not true may work with some folks but as an Engineer I need data.
Not sure why it's a surprise as it's the first time its been done. Surely anything else was a 'best guesstimate'. You guessed. You were wrong. That's all there is here. Nothing else can be inferred unless you've tested before and found a marked change. Even then, unless you have previous years of tests to compare, you still can't say too much. Everything here is inference. Not science.Reply
Not supporting any others but its logical why only that glaciar is warm beneath while the surrounding area is freezing. Is it because of a potentially warm ground beneath?Zsport said:Hi Rodkeh, can you present your data and or measurements, just saying it's not true may work with some folks but as an Engineer I need data.
Hmmm....could there be another explanation other than global warming. :unsure::unsure::unsure:Reply
Underwater Volcanoes activity from increasing number of hydrothermal vents?Reply
Well Rodkeh we are here as a community appreciate solid evidences to prove or disprove something, so I'm not interested listening to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics unless it is accompanied by solid evidences and numbers supporting your idea. If you don't have it I appreciate that keeping silent or telling the truth based on evidence would be better at the end with all respect to your idea, your argument is weakReply
Rodkeh said:It is only a surprise to these frauds calling themselves scientists. There is no threat and this Doomsday Glacier is just a feeble attempt at fear mongering. There is no Doomsday anything and there is no climate crisis anywhere on this planet, at this time.
If anything it is a manufactured crisis and yes a lot of fear mongering and fear porn. If you follow the money a lot of the money comes from George Soros and Billy Gates on the climate change scandal. And I don't know about you but you can just see the evil in those two guys eyes. They sure aren't doing it to help the world.
Ahmad Alkuwatli said:Well Rodkeh we are here as a community appreciate solid evidences to prove or disprove something, so I'm not interested listening to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics unless it is accompanied by solid evidences and numbers supporting your idea. If you don't have it I appreciate that keeping silent or telling the truth based on evidence would be better at the end with all respect to your idea, your argument is weak
Kind of hard to be part of a community if you have only posted one time on here. How are you part of the community here? I have never even seen you. I suggest maybe posting a little more here before you are going to tell someone to keep silent. People have a right to opinions and every post don't need to be backed up with evidence. He made a common sense statement the way I see it.