A Cornell University-led team has employed an innovative underwater robot, Icefin, to explore the crevasses of Antarctic ice shelves, shedding new light on the circulation of seawater beneath and its potential impact on shelf stability. This exploration, focusing on the Ross Ice Shelf, has for the first time provided three-dimensional measurements of ocean conditions near the grounding zones — critical points that could influence global sea-level rise.
Robot Reveals Underwater Secrets
Icefin, a slender, tube-shaped robot, braved the icy depths to unveil a new circulation pattern within the crevasses, challenging previous models and predictions. The vehicle’s descent into a 1,900-foot borehole drilled near the Kamb Ice Stream revealed that crevasses are not mere fissures but active conduits for water movement, influencing melting and freezing processes that are crucial for the ice shelf’s structure.
Surprising Circulation Patterns
The robot’s journey revealed intricate ice formations and unexpected circulation features, including a jet of water moving sideways through the crevasse. This discovery is key to understanding how ocean conditions interact with ice shelves, particularly in the Ross Shelf’s grounding zone, which plays a pivotal role in balancing ice sheets.
Implications for Climate Modeling
The findings, captured by Icefin, indicate that crevasses could significantly transport oceanic changes through ice shelves’ most vulnerable regions. This insight is essential for projecting sea-level rise and will enhance the accuracy of models predicting the melting and freezing rates of ice shelves.
A Cooperative Effort for Planetary Research
The Icefin team, led by Britney Schmidt, associate professor at Cornell University, and supported by a New Zealand-based research team, has been funded by NASA’s Project RISE UP. Their work not only contributes to our understanding of Earth’s climate system but also aids in the search for life on icy worlds beyond our planet.
A New Era of Polar Oceanography
This mission marks a significant advancement in polar oceanography, providing a detailed look at the previously unobserved phenomena under the ice. As Icefin continues to navigate the crevasses, it brings to light the dynamic interplay between ocean and ice, a relationship more complex and consequential than ever previously understood.