IPY: Stability of Larsen C Ice Shelf in a Warming Climate
This award supports a field experiment, with partners from Chile and the Netherlands, to determine the state of health and stability of Larsen C ice shelf in response to climate change. Significant glaciological and ecological changes are taking place in the Antarctic Peninsula in response to climate warming that is proceeding at 6 times the global average rate. Following the collapse of Larsen A ice shelf in 1995 and Larsen B in 2002, the outlet glaciers that nourished them with land ice accelerated massively, losing a disproportionate amount of ice to the ocean. Further south, the much larger Larsen C ice shelf is thinning and measurements collected over more than a decade suggest that it is doomed to break up. The intellectual merit of the project will be to contribute to the scientific knowledge of one of the Antarctic sectors where the most significant changes are taking place at present. The project is central to a cluster of International Polar Year activities in the Antarctic Peninsula. It will yield a legacy of international collaboration, instrument networking, education of young scientists, reference data and scientific analysis in a remote but globally relevant glaciological setting. The broader impacts of the project will be to address the contribution to sea level rise from Antarctica and to bring live monitoring of climate and ice dynamics in Antarctica to scientists, students, the non-specialized public, the press and the media via live web broadcasting of progress, data collection, visualization and analysis. Existing data will be combined with new measurements to assess what physical processes are controlling the weakening of the ice shelf, whether a break up is likely, and provide baseline data to quantify the consequences of a breakup. Field activities will include measurements using the Global Positioning System (GPS), installation of automatic weather stations (AWS), ground penetrating radar (GPR) measurements, collection of shallow firn cores and temperature measurements. These data will be used to characterize the dynamic response of the ice shelf to a variety of phenomena (oceanic tides, iceberg calving, ice-front retreat and rifting, time series of weather conditions, structural characteristics of the ice shelf and bottom melting regime, and the ability of firn to collect melt water and subsequently form water ponds that over-deepen and weaken the ice shelf). This effort will complement an analysis of remote sensing data, ice-shelf numerical models and control methods funded independently to provide a more comprehensive analysis of the ice shelf evolution in a changing climate.
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