The Ross Ice Shelf is Freezing, Not Melting. Scientists Surprised

  • Date: 26/02/18
  • Popular Mechanics

Scientists were surprised by the results of their study. “It blew our minds,” Christina Hulbe, the glaciologist from the University of Otago in New Zealand, who co-led the project, told National Geographic.

 

In November, scientists from New Zealand used a hot water drill to go deep into Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf. The shelf, which can be up to 10,000 feet thick, is the largest of several that hold back West Antarctica’s massive amounts of ice. If these were to collapse, global sea level would rise by ten feet.

Drilling a hole and lowering a camera and thermometer inside is a way for researchers to understand the history of the shelf, and what is happening to it now. In measuring the temperature and currents below the shelf, they expected to find that the ice was melting.

Instead, the water appeared to be crystalizing and freezing. In the video from National Geographic below, you can see the white dots of ice crystals as the camera is lowered towards the dark sea below. If the shelf was melting, the hole at that level would have smooth sides.

“It blew our minds,” Christina Hulbe, the glaciologist from the University of Otago in New Zealand, who co-led the project, told National Geographic.

Scientists have left instruments deep in the hole to measure currents and temperatures below the shelf for the next few years. Though the freezing seems to be a promising sign for the shelf’s stability, it doesn’t tell the whole picture. Scientists also hope to learn whether the ice shelf has melted in the past due to other climate shifts.

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