Penn State Scientists Utilise Innovative Approaches In Antarctic Research

The National Science Foundation recently noted that the researchers working on the Pine Island Glacier project are one of three Antarctic science initiatives that have achieved technological milestones with innovative approaches to drilling.

Specifically, in an attempt to map the cavity beneath the 37 mile long Pine Island Glacier ice shelf, Penn State graduate student Kiya Riverman and research associate Leo Peters used two specific methods to achieve their goal.

Researching Pine Island Glacier
Pine Island Glacier camp aerial
Image Credit: Penn State via Flickr

The first of these techniques was to pound sledgehammers against steel plates and set off explosives to create energy on the surface of the ice.

“This energy travels through the ice and seawater and bounces off the seafloor,” Riverman explained. “Using instruments called geophones, we record vibrations in the ice at the surface and the amount of time it takes for that energy to bounce off the seafloor. This tells us the seafloor depth. By repeating explosions or hammer blows at different locations, we can start to develop a map of the seafloor.”

The second technique saw the team dragging low-frequency radar units behind snowmobiles to map changes in the ice thickness.

“We were able to collect more than enough data to produce a meaningful map of the ocean cavity and ice thickness variations,” Riverman said.

“Changes in the size of this ice shelf are a direct control on the speed of the glacier, which in turn is able to draw ice from a large portion of West Antarctica,” Riverman said. “This means that changes on the Pine Island Ice Shelf have ramifications for much of Western Antarctica.”

Which is why Riverman and Peters are working with Professor of Geosciences Sridhar Anandakrishnan, a lead researcher on the Pine Island Glacier project, an international effort that also receives support from NASA and includes researchers from the Naval Postgraduate School, the British Antarctic Survey, University of Alaska and New York University.

Source: Penn State

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