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Life on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet



WHILLANS ICE STREAM, ANTARCTICA– In this audio dispatch, I describe our first week in our field camp on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Hear about our research on lakes under the glaciers and get a slice of life as a remote polar scientist.


The Under the Glaciers project field camp on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet during the 2007 season.


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2 Responses »

  1. What is the size of ocean and land temperature changes that have occurred near the Ross ice shelve? What is the estimate for temperature increases that would destabalize the West Antarctic ice sheet?
    I like to read geology and global warming books and prefer to read books written by scientist which are written for lay people(I do have a science background but not in these fields). What are some of your latest recommendations

  2. George-

    Those are both great questions and scientists are striving to answer some of those fundamental questions as we speak. Because the ocean temperature is so much dependent on currents and mixing, it is a hard value to pin down around the world, most especially in Antarctica. And in the area of the Ross Sea, you have the ~ kilometer thick Ross Ice Shelf preventing you from taking direct measurements. No one really understands what temperature will cause any glacier or ice sheet to decay, because there are so many influencing factors. For example, a glacier builds up its mass over thousands of years, and this mass moves downhill, because it is continually being replenished higher up its gradient. So if the climate change changes the replenishing, it could be hundreds of years before there is a noticeable effect on the ice motion or overall mass of the ice sheet. The presence of water at the base of ice also makes it move much quicker and in the case of most ice sheets, if you move glacier ice to the ocean, it calves off into icebergs and then speeds up the remaining ice - you can see that it can quickly become a runaway process.

    Again, both great questions, and as for reading, I would suggest “The Two Mile Time Machine” or “Snowball Earth,” as far as books go. Also, lots of magazines lately will have stories related to climate change. Of course, this site, “Ice Stories,” is also a great resource for not only the science at the poles, but the many trials and tribulations that us scientists have to go through.

    Jake