A team of scientists have set forth from BAS Rothera Research Station on the Antarctic Peninsula and are heading for Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica where they will survey the world’s largest glacier in an effort to understand how ice is being lost from the glacier and what contribution the loss is likely to have on future sea-level rises.
Included in the team is British Antarctic Survey glaciologist Dr. Andy Smith, who was part of the BBC Frozen Planet team who flew to the Antarctic Peninsula in January of 2010 with Sir David Attenborough to witness the disintegration of part of the Wilkins Ice Shelf, a portion the size of Yorkshire in England or the whole of Jamaica.
“Loss of ice from Pine Island Glacier could be a major contributor to global sea level rise in the future,” said Dr. Smith. “What we are trying to determine is what this contribution is likely to be and over what timescale.”
The team includes two scientists and two support staff who will be living on Pine Island Glacier which, along with its basin, has an area approximately 176,000 kilometres square. For comparison, the whole size of England only measures 130,395 kilometres squared.
In addition, Pine Island Glacier itself is acting as a giant plug to a massive amount of water which, if the glacier disintegrates enough, will flood into the ocean.
Pine Island Glacier is of great interest to scientists across the planet because of the rate at which the glacier has been thinning – more than 1 metre a year – as well as the fact that its flow rate has also increased over the past 15 years. The point at which the glacier starts to float on the sea has also retreated at a rate of more than 1 kilometre a year during a portion of the last 15 years.
Smith and his colleagues will use a number of techniques including GPS and seismic measurements.
For more information and a deeper insight into the science that is taking place in Antarctica, check out BBC’s TV show ‘Frozen Planet’ which airs its final episode – ‘On Thin Ice’ – this Wednesday, the 7th of December, at 9pm on BBC1 in the UK.