The 65-day trip will study the atmospheric and oceanic conditions around the gigantic Thwaites Glacier – one of the largest in Antarctica, spanning 74,000 square miles.
Experts have warned that recent dramatic changes to the glacier could have a catastrophic effect on global sea level, increasing the height to 65cm.
The trip, aboard the icebreaker Nathaniel B Palmer, is part of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC, a five-year project jointly funded by the Natural Environment Research Council of the United Kingdom and the National Science Foundation of the United States United.
The team, led by academics from the University of East Anglia (UEA), will conduct a wide range of studies around the Thwaites Ice Shelf to gain new insight into the behavior of the glacier.
The infamous Boaty McBoatface and a fleet of other robotic submarines will be deployed to perform pioneering underwater studies under the ice.
Dr Rob Hall, UEA, is the chief scientist in charge of the trip.
“It’s very exciting, but also intimidating, to lead this campaign to take critical ocean measurements under and around this vulnerable ice shelf,” he said.
“The team has completed a month of quarantine to make sure everyone is safe, and now we can’t wait to put our wide range of scientific instruments in the water to see what we learn about how. the ocean melts the pack ice from below.
“We are already carefully monitoring the extent of the pack ice to find the best way to access the area, because even this powerful icebreaker cannot cross deep pack ice. “
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The National Oceanographic Center (NOC) provides innovative technology as part of the ITGC’s TARSAN project.
Dr Alex Phillips of NOC said: “Our science and engineering teams have made tremendous strides in pushing the boundaries of how we explore the world’s oceans with underwater technology. join the extended ITGC team with Boaty McBoatface, who will travel further below the Thwaites Glacier than ever before. “
Along with the robot teams, scientists from the University of St Andrews will tag the seals to collect data on ocean temperature and salinity around the pack ice over the next nine months of the Antarctic winter.
At the same time, researchers working in the ITGC’s THOR and ARTEMIS projects will collect sediment cores, conduct seabed surveys and measure the chemical properties of seawater.
Thwaites already deposits 50 billion tonnes of ice in the ocean each year, which is about 4% of the world’s current sea level rise.
But there is concern that a section of floating ice in the front of the glacier, which was previously relatively stable, could “shatter like a car windshield” in the very near future – perhaps within five. to the next ten years.
The team departed from Punta Arenas in Chile on January 6 – the 100th anniversary of the death of polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.