Submarine to Explore Antarctic Glacier

Submarine to Explore Antarctic Glacier

For finding the cause of rapid glacier melting in Antarctica, Scientist prepared to send submarine underside of the ice shelf to better understand why it is occurring.

Already a team of scientists has reached the Thwaites glacier in Antarctica and is preparing to drill through more than half a kilometer of ice into the dark waters beneath.

Researchers plans to dig a 600-meter-deep borehole by which they will send a torpedo type robotic submarine and that will explore the underside of the ice shelf to better understand why it is melting so fast.

Thwaites glacier is a part of the west Antarctic ice sheet which has lost an estimated 540bn tonnes of ice since the 1980s.

A recent study shows that the melting of the glacier is raising in an alarming rate and sending even more ice into the Amundsen Sea.

“There are several glaciers in Antarctica that are doing similar things, but this is the one we are most worried about,” said David Vaughan, the director of science at the British Antarctic Survey, who has travelled south with the UK-US drilling team.

Thwaites glacier is one of the most remote and inhospitable places on Earth where the researchers have to finish their mission within a week because of the unstable temperature that can fall below -20C any time.

“The aim is to do it as rapidly as possible. All of this will happen in three to four days. They really can’t afford to muck about,” added Vaughan.

Earlier this year NASA scientists used ground-penetrating radar to this place and find a massive cavity in its base which is two-thirds the size of Manhattan and 300 meters tall.

Around 13bn tones of ice melted away over the past three years by this enormous cavity which allows water to get under the glacier and melt it from beneath.

“Nobody has ever been able to drill through the ice close to where it starts to float and that is the critical point,” Vaughan told the reporters.

“If everything goes to plan, they will drill the hole and then ream it out until it’s about 50cm across, and then lower in the autonomous underwater vehicle. That will actually go into the cavity and send back images in real time so they can navigate it right up to the point where the ice starts to float,” he added.

Thwaites glacier is responsible for 4% of the global sea level rise.

“If Thwaites glacier melts, on its own, we will see a rise in sea level around our own coast,” said Vaughan.

“We are not saying that it’s going to happen in the next 100 years or so, but it could certainly begin in that time period. We’ll look at the flow of the ice and see how it’s affected, for instance, by tidal changes. All of those things tell us about the sensitivity of the system to small perturbations, which in future might be large perturbations as the ice shelf melts. This is all about sea level rise. That is why we are here.”

The fieldwork, part of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, will run until March 2020.

> Dipto Paul



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