RAPID: Observing the Disintegration of the Scar Inlet Ice Shelf
This award supports a Rapid Response Research (RAPID) project to observe the current weakened state of the Scar Inlet Ice Shelf, and potentially capture data during its anticipated disintegration. The Scar Inlet Ice Shelf (SIIS) is the southern remnant of the former Larsen B Ice Shelf, which disintegrated in March of 2002. Since then, the SIIS has weakened significantly but has not yet broken up. Cooler conditions than those seen prior to 2006 have reduced the chance of a disintegration in recent years, although a single warm season is likely to be enough to trigger such an event. The predicted "Super El Nino" for this austral summer may have significant effects on Antarctica's weather, potentially leading to a break-up or disintegration this year. Given the very weak state of the SIIS, it is urgent that we act now to better understand the processes involved in shelf disintegration or break-up of ice shelves. The goal of this work is to collect several key data sets, publish initial observations and preliminary conclusions, and then make the complete data record available to all scientists.
Extreme changes in the stress conditions on the SIIS resulted from both the loss of the Larsen B ice plate and the continued inflow of ice from three large glaciers (Flask, Leppard, and Starbuck). The SIIS now has a number of large rifts and it is expected to break up or disintegrate in the very near future. Past research has made use of satellite data and weather instruments, establishing many of the current ideas regarding ice shelf break-ups and ice shelf weakening. Additional ground-based data to be collected under this study will test a number of hypotheses regarding pre-disintegration characteristics, triggering mechanisms, fracturing processes, runaway feedback effects, and stabilizing mechanisms. The project will collect extensive multi-instrument field observations of the SIIS and possibly capture a major disintegration event. In collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey, a team of 4 people will be deployed via Twin Otter for up to 4 weeks to a site with a broad view of the shelf and will install several temporary observing instruments there. The study derives its intellectual merit from the role of the Antarctic Peninsula as a microcosm of how other parts of Antarctica might evolve and de-glaciate in the next few centuries. The broader impacts include an opportunity to educate the public about the anticipated collapse of this remnant ice shelf and its relationship to future changes in Antarctica. The potential for wide media coverage (through a connection with the National Geographic) will underscore the critical changes scientists are observing in the crysophere driven by climate change. This proposal requires field work in Antarctica.
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