Collaborative Research of Earth's Largest Icebergs
This award supports the study of the drift and break-up of Earth's largest icebergs, which were recently released into the Ross Sea of Antarctica as a result of calving from the Ross Ice Shelf. The scientific goals of the study are to determine the physics of iceberg motion within the dynamic context of ocean currents, winds, and sea ice, which determine the forces that drive iceberg motion, and the relationship between the iceberg and geographically and topographically determined pinning points on which the iceberg can ground. In addition, the processes by which icebergs influence the local environments (e.g., sea ice conditions near Antarctica, access to penguin rookeries, air-sea heat exchange and upwelling at iceberg margins, nutrient fluxes) will be studied. The processes by which icebergs generate globally far-reaching ocean acoustic signals that are detected within the global seismic (earthquake) sensing networks will also be studied. A featured element of the scientific research activity will be a field effort to deploy automatic weather stations, seismometer arrays and GPS-tracking stations on several of the largest icebergs presently adrift, or about to be adrift, in the Ross Sea. Data generated and relayed via satellite to home institutions in the Midwest will motivate theoretical analysis and computer simulation; and will be archived on an "iceberg" website (http://amrc.ssec.wisc.edu/amrc/iceberg.html) for access by scientists and the general public. At the most broad level, the study is justified by the fact that icebergs released by the Antarctic ice sheet represent the largest movements of fresh water within the natural environment (e.g., several of the icebergs to be studied, B15, C19 and others calved since 2000 CE, represent over 6000 cubic kilometers of fresh water-an amount roughly equivalent to 100 years of the flow of the Nile River). A better understanding of the impact of iceberg drift through the environment, and particularly the impact on ocean stratification and mixing, is essential to the understanding of the abrupt global climate changes witnessed by proxy during the ice age and of concern under conditions of future greenhouse warming. On a more specific level, the study will generate a knowledge base useful for the better management of Antarctic logistical resources (e.g., the shipping lanes to McMurdo Station) that can occasionally be influenced by adverse effects icebergs have on sea ice conditions.
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