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Investigating Iceberg Evolution During Drift and Break-Up: A Proxy for Climate-Related Changes in Antarctic Ice Shelves

NSFThis project is funded by NSF ANT grant 0540915


To study the processes that contribute to the melting and break-up of tabular polar icebergs as they drift north


Ted Scambos, Rob Bauer, Pedro Skvarca, Johathan Thom, Ron Ross, and Juan Carlos Quinteros

Project Summary

This work will enable the participation of a group of U.S. scientists in this international project which is collaborative with the Instituto Antartico Argentino. The field team will place weather instruments, firn sensors, and a video camera on the iceberg to measure the processes that affect it as it drifts north. In contrast to icebergs in other sectors of Antarctica, icebergs in the northwestern Weddell Sea drift northward along relatively predictable paths, and reach climate and ocean conditions that lead to break-up within a few years. The timing of this study is critical due to the anticipated presence of iceberg A43A, which broke off the Ronne Ice Shelf in February 2000 and which is expected to be accessible from Marambio Station in early 2006. It has recently been recognized that the end stages of break-up of these icebergs can imitate the rapid disintegrations due to melt ponding and surface fracturing observed for the Larsen A and Larsen B ice shelves. However, in some cases, basal melting may play a significant role in shelf break-up. Resolving the processes (surface ponding/fracturing versus basal melt) and observing other processes of iceberg drift and in situ break-up are of high scientific interest. An understanding of the mechanisms that lead to the disintegration of icebergs as they drift north may enable scientists to use icebergs as proxies for understanding the processes that could cause ice shelves to disintegrate in a warming climate. A broader impact would thus be an ability to predict ice shelf disintegration in a warming world. Glacier mass balance and ice shelf stability are of critical importance to sea level change, which also has broader societal relevance.

NSIDC staff members assembling a weather tower
NSIDC staff members Rob Bauer, Terry Haran, Ted Scambos, Atsuhiro Muto, and Ken Knowles assembled a weather tower in preparation for iceberg investigations in Antarctica. Although the mission didn't take place until early 2006, the team spent several months during 2005 designing instruments and monitoring iceberg positions around Antarctica.

Related Resources

For more information, visit the NSIDC IceTrek Web site.

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