Exciting news! Tomorrow I’m departing for 2.5 months of research on the Antarctic ice sheet. I will be traveling with a team of three other scientists and two mountaineers to conduct geophysics research on Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica. You’ve probably heard about this glacier in the news.
Thwaites Glacier is one of the fastest retreating glaciers in Antarctica and considerable uncertainty remains in projecting it’s future ice loss and contribution to sea level rise. Here’s a video explaining why Thwaites is unstable and why it can raise global sea level.
I will be conducting radar surveys across the Eastern Shear Margin of Thwaites Glacier as part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded TIME project (https://thwaitesglacier.org/projects/time). What is a shear margin? It’s the region where the glacier transitions from flowing very slowly to very quickly. You can think of this region like the bank of a stream. Take a look at the map below of Thwaites Glacier (The glacier drains into the ocean to the left.) See the rapid transitions from blue/green to red? That is the shear margin. The stars mark the field site locations where I will be conducting radar surveys.
Our research aims to study how the Eastern Shear Margin controls the stability and future evolution of Thwaites Glacier. At one site, we will be testing how hydrology influences the behavior and movement of the shear margin. At the other site, we will examine how the bed conditions could influence the flow of the glacier.
Getting there: Thwaites Glacier is one of the most difficult locations to get to in Antarctica. It’s known for particularly bad weather and challenging conditions.
My journey to Thwaites Glacier starts from the SFO airport. From there I will fly to Christchurch, NZ where the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) offices are located in addition to the NSF offices, warehouse, and distribution center for field gear. After a few days of training and packing in Christchurch with my field team, we will take a US military aircraft to McMurdo station in Antarctica. We will be in McMurdo for a few weeks to prepare our equipment and do field training. From there we will take a flight to WAIS Divide camp, and then a smaller plane to our field site on Thwaites Glacier. Once on the glacier, we will be taking geophysical measurements across the shear margin for 4 to 5 weeks and we will use snowmobiles to traverse between field sites.
Similar to my summer in Greenland, we will be camping in tents on the ice while conducting the research. There will be no warm buildings, fresh food, or internet at the research site! There will be (limited) internet at the field stations in Antarctica and I will be taking lots of pictures, videos, and notes along the entire journey so get excited for many blogs to come! If things go according to plans, I should be back to California in early to mid February.
Stay tuned for more updates in the next few days as I begin my journey down under!