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San Diego Researchers Measure Ice Shelf Stress In Antarctica

Michael Van Woert, NOAA NESDIS, ORA.
The edge of the Ross Ice Shelf photographed in December, 1997.
San Diego Researchers Measure Ice Shelf Stress In Antarctica
Scripps Institution of Oceanography researchers made the difficult trek to Antarctica in order to study the continent's largest ice shelf.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientists are currently in Antarctica to collect data on the continent's largest ice shelf.

Ice shelves prevent land ice from reaching the ocean. When these barriers fall apart, sea levels rise. Three San Diego researchers are installing an array of seismic sensors that will gauge stress on the critical Ross Ice Shelf.


"There's about three meters of sea level rise that it's restraining," said Peter Bromirski, reached in Antarctica via Skype. "And of course, for California — with all our coastal regions — sea level rise is a significant concern."

So far, the researchers have installed four sensors in remote locations, leaving about two dozen left to put in place. The team expects to finish installation by early December, but completing the task depends on weather conditions.

Describing the installation sites, Bromirski said he's "pretty sure no other human has been there before. And no other human will go there after we deinstall the station two years from now."

Bromirski doesn't expect the Ross Ice Shelf to collapse any time soon. It's huge — roughly the size of France — and would take a long time to wear down. But he said it is moving.

These sensors will pick up on that movement to show how waves impacting the ice shelf can wear it down, and ultimately how ice shelf stress could accumulate over time to affect coastlines around the world.


"It's important to be aware of what's possible so you can plan for and mitigate eventual sea level rise," said Bromirski.

The researchers are chronicling their trip on their Ice Shelf Vibrations blog.