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Return to the Larsen B and Scar Inlet Ice Shelf

January 28, 2016

Ted Scambos writes:

We have come back to this key area of Antarctica because it is on the ‘front line’ of how the continent is responding to warmer air and changing wind patterns. The Larsen B ice shelf, larger than Delaware in the 1990s, disintegrated in a matter of weeks in 2002. Between Jan 31 and March 17 of that year, 3250 km2 of ice 220 meters thick (over 700 feet) crumbled away after a very warm summer with extensive melting. However, one area of the Larsen B remained intact: a sheltered southern bay called Scar Inlet. In the past 14 years, this remnant shelf has changed dramatically, developing many new rifts and fractures. Moreover, since late 2011, the larger bay where the Larsen B once resided has been covered with a solid sheet of frozen ocean ice, called ‘fast ice’ because it is ‘fastened’ (frozen) to the coastline. We suspect that now this fast ice is supporting the weakened Scar Inlet shelf, and that the shelf is poised to break-up (at least partially) if the thin fast ice breaks away. This generally happens in late austral summer. Our mission is to set up a series of instruments for a few weeks to measure the structural state of both the fast ice and the Scar Inlet ice shelf plate.

larsenb_2002

The two color images are from NASA’s MODIS sensor, and record ‘before’ and ‘after’ conditions of the Larsen B ice shelf disintegration of 2002. The blue specks on the January 31st image are melt ponds from warm summer conditions. In the March 7 image, the blue areas are disintegrated ice blocks, often flipped on their side in the dynamic break-up event. The three images at the lower left record how the surface lakes disappeared over the weeks leading up to the break-up. At top right is a Landsat 7 image showing the melt ponds in more detail in a preceding summer. Image credit: T. Scambos, Scambos et al., 2003 AGU Antarctic Research Series v.79.

The images above are from satellite data taken during the break-up of the Larsen B in 2002. You can see why we are going at this time of year – this is exactly the part of the year, late summer, when these kinds of rapid break-ups can occur. The key factor is summer melting – in years when the shelf ice is covered with small blue melt ponds, there is a strong likelihood of disintegration. The lakes accelerate fracturing in the ice by filling cracks with water and breaking them open, a process called ‘hydrofracture’.

The remnant Scar Inlet ice shelf has remained intact but has evolved considerably in the years since 2002, developing new rifts, a more fractured margin, and deep troughs near the ice front. Below is a series of images showing how the ice has evolved, and the recent persistent fast ice.

scar_moa
Evolution of Scar Inlet Ice shelf from Jan 2004, Jan 2009, and Jan 2014. Images from MOA2004, MOA2009, and (in preparation) MOA2014. Red dots in 2014 image show locations of LARISSA-installed instrument assets (G, GPS; A, AMIGOS with high-resolution camera; A*, AMIGOS with GPS and webcam).

The research team has spent the past few years installing sensors on the ice shelf and on the rocks nearby. We’ve talked about these in the OTI blog before – the “AMIGOS” stations, having cameras, a GPS, and weather and ice-measurement instruments, and the continuous precision GPS stations, which also measure weather as well as ice or rock motion down to millimeter precision. The station on Cape Disappointment has been very useful (not disappointing at all!) for tracking how the edge of the ice shelf has crumbled over the past few years and mixed with the sea ice. A recent set of pictures – a panorama – is shown below.

amigos6_2016-01-02

Looking south from the Cape Disappointment AMIGOS station toward the Scar Inlet Shelf on January 2, 2016. The near foreground is the rocky cape where the AMIGOS system is installed; just beyond that is a part of the ice front that has fractured and retreated slightly over the past five years. In the distance is the remainder of the Scar Inlet ice shelf and the mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula. The entire ice surface in view is at risk of more rapid break-up if warm summer conditions occur.

A new satellite tool is now available for tracking how the Scar Inlet region evolves. Landsat 8, launched in February of 2013, provides 15m resolution images of the world’s land and ice cover, with color channels at 30 m resolution and thermal data as well. A false color image (using near-infrared light for red, red light for green, and green light for blue, to create an image that enhances the ability to detect melting) is shown from January 6. The fast ice has partially flooded due to warm conditions in late December and early January, and there are several cracks in the ice. A few ponds appear on the ice shelf and adjacent glaciers.

Our plan is to visit several of the stations, and install additional GPS stations (from the air – that should be interesting…) and then bring our additional cameras and other instruments to Cape Disappointment to record ~2 to 3 weeks of summer conditions on the fast ice and ice shelf in detail. Stay tuned…..

landsat8_2016-01-06

Landsat 8 image from January 6, 2016, showing summer conditions on the fast ice, glaciers, and ice shelf in the study area. .

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We’re back!

January 28, 2016

Ted Scambos writes:

The OTI research team has two projects for the 2016 season: a return to the Antarctic Peninsula where a large plate of ice is on the brink of collapse, and testing of a new instrument on a frozen Minnesota lake. The instrument (an ‘AMIGOS-II’, upgraded from the devices already operating in Antarctica) is designed to make combined measurements of weather, ice conditions, and ocean currents and temperature from atop an ice shelf or sea ice. The Antarctic field work is first, and then we’ll shift over to track the instrument expedition in February.

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Introduction

April 1, 2013

For the past four Antarctic field seasons that usually run from November through February, Ted Scambos and colleagues have been posting updates about their expedition to the Larsen Ice Shelf region, as part of the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Larsen Ice Shelf System Antractica (LARISSA) project. LARISSA’s goal is to understand the causes and consequences of a rapidly changing part of Antarctica, from climate to ice to ocean and the seabed below, and then to the ecosystem evolving and adapting to the change. This year’s 2013 field season has been extended from April into May: Ted Scambos, Jenn Bohlander, Rob Bauer, Erin Pettit, and Ronald Ross will accompany a group of scientists from the Korea Polar Research Institute (KOPRI) aboard the KOPRI research icebreaker Araon.

About the expedition

Who are we?

Where are we going?

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The Current Team

February 13, 2016

Meet the field team for the Scar Inlet survey project: Dr.Erin Pettit is the Principal Investigator,an associate professor from University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF); her graduate student, also from UAF, is Christina Carr. Dr. Ted Scambos is the Lead Scientist at National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and is the Co-PI for this project. In Antarctica we met our fourth team member, Phil ‘Chucky’ Stevens, a British Antarctic Survey (BAS) mountaineering expert and Field Guide.

current_team
Scar Inlet field team – clockwise from upper left: Dr. Erin Pettit aboard the Dash-7; Dr. Ted Scambos at camp on Cape Disappointment, reading texts on the Denver Bronco’s Super Bowl win; Chucky Stevens digging into a bag of re-hydrated ‘man food’ (now for women, too!) – seen with Dr. Pippa Whitehouse of Durham University (visiting our camp for another project) and Erin; Christina Carr arriving at Rothera Station, and jumping onto the boot wash pad, a pad of sterilizing fluid to limit the number of non-Antarctic species brought to the continent.

 

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El Día de Sardinas

February 24, 2014

Rob writers:

Cape Marsh, Robinson Island, Antarctic Peninsula… the last place I’d imagine we’d be eating a can of sardines… Yet here we are, hunkered down in the breeze, having a Sunday Brunch of sardines and biscuits.

Our day started with the usual – obsessively checking the weather via the Antarctic Mesoscale Prediction System (AMPS) and looking at imagery and data from the three AMIGOS towers located to the south of us. Scheduled to be on the helo ramp at 0830, we finally lift off at 0925 – a total of sixteen crew and passengers bound for Cape Marsh and Matienzo station.

On the Helo Pad Waiting for Our rRde

Ted and Terry on the Helo Pad Waiting for Their Ride

Terry on Board the  Helo 94

Terry on Board the Helo 94

Rob and the Base Commander, Gabriel, on Board Helo 94

Rob and the Base Commander, Gabriel, on Board Helo 94

Ted Enjoys the Inflight Beverage Service

Ted Enjoys the Inflight Beverage Service

The flight south from Base Marambio takes about an hour – we circle to land on a rocky spot above the GPS station – touch down and out the door we go – three Norte Americanos and their five boxes of tools, parts, rations and survival gear. Though we’re only planning to be here for an hour and a half, we are prepared to stay at least five days should the weather change or helicopter issues arise.

The helo chatters off with thirteen souls bound for Matienzo Station – the Base Commander at Marambio has chosen a few people among his staff to fly to Matienzo and check on how the station faired through the long winter.

Helo Departing after Dropping Us Off at Cape Marsh

Helo Departing after Dropping Us Off at Cape Marsh

Since we’re on a tight schedule, we get right to work, photographing the GPS installation and documenting any wear and tear by the relentless wind and snow. Ted’s on the satellite phone checking in with Thomas back in Boulder, while Terry and I start digging a trench for the new antenna cable. Time flies as we work to bring the ailing station back to life. One last call to Thomas and UNAVCO confirms that we have a fully operating system – time to pack our gear and get ready for the helo arrival.

The GPS Antenna at Cape Marsh, Robertson Island

The GPS Antenna at Cape Marsh, Robertson Island

“We need to eat these sardines now!” Ted proclaims as we’re closing up our cargo boxes. These damn sardines have been an obsession with him and he will not be denied. We each gulp down an oily sardine, knowing that we’ll have to live with the aftertaste for the next hour’s helo flight. Mission accomplished and we head for home base.

Our Ride Home

Our Ride Home

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Cable Guys – Foyn Point

February 20, 2014

Ted writes:

February 17 dawned clear and warm — an incredible third day in a row of good flying weather, and we were up next. We rolled out of our bunks at 6 am, checked the weather from the AMIGOS stations we installed to the south of our target at Foyn Point — the camera system at Cape Disappointment.  It too was clear, with a few high clouds. Lift-off was set for 8, and we actually left the ground at 8:05.

The helicopters, Russian-built Mi-17 ‘Hip’ models are big, although slightly less big than I initially thought – about the same as the Argentine Navy (Armada) Sea King helicopters. But they are far easier to work with. A large loading ramp opens in the back and the interior is big and boxy. In our case, there was a bit less space because two large interior fuel tanks had been moved inside — with these, the range radius of the Mi-17 is truly incredible, over 200 miles. We were traveling about 140 miles from Marambio. In addition to the three of us (Ted, Terry, and Rob) there were six others in the aircraft. It was still mostly empty. Properly configured for a shorter flight, I think it could hold 20 people.

Helo at Marambio Base

Helo at Marambio Base

Inside Mi-17

Inside Mi-17

We lifted slowly and moved west over the barren dirt of Seymour Island and across a berg- and sea ice dotted ocean towards James Ross Island. I think of this island as the ‘ice cream island’ – a mesa of brown rock topped by a soft white ice cap that is flowing over the edge. Beautiful and you really sense the nature of ice and its ability to flow — but at the same time you realize that the flow takes centuries. We zoom low past a dozen ice cream fountains along the south edge of the island.

Ice Cream on James Ross Island

Ice Cream on James Ross Island

For many miles we cross sea ice – huge flat plates of broken ice only now cracking up in the Larsen A embayment. This year has been a very extensive ice year throughout Antarctica setting a record (nsidc.org/sea_ice_news). In the Peninsula and Weddell Sea (the ocean to the east of us), there is still heavy ice even though it is mid-February – usually the ice-free time of year for the northern Peninsula.

Sea Ice in Larsen A Embayment

Sea Ice in Larsen A Embayment

As we head toward Foyn, we fly past a much smaller Argentine base sometimes occupied in summer, although not this year. The base is Matienzo, designed to hold 8-12 people and support over-ice traverses and helicopters for exploring the glaciers of the Larsen area. Built in the 1960s, Matienzo is a bit weather-beaten since it is now rarely used; but we hope to make use of it more in the coming years.

Right next to Matienzo is a section of remnant ice shelf that is now the most northerly ice shelf in Antarcitca — the Seal Nunataks Ice Shelf — or at least, that is our working name for it. Technically it is a remnant of the Larsen Ice Shelf, stuck between the Larsen A and Larsen B embayments.

Matienzo Overflight

Matienzo Overflight

Seal Nunataks Ice Shelf

Seal Nunataks Ice Shelf

After about 90 minutes, we are there — Foyn Point, a large rock outcropping emerging from the ice cap, and the cape that marks the north side of Crane Glacier. We can see our two stations through the large porthole windows on the helo. After a few quick passes for a closer look, the pilot moves in and lands — so gently that touchdown was undetectable inside,  and we are off and working. The helo went back to Matienzo to wait, engine idling.

Foyn Point

Foyn Point

Helo on Foyn Point Unloading

Helo on Foyn Point Unloading

Helo Departs Foyn Point

Helo Departs Foyn Point

We got right to it, photographing the stations and assembling our gear for the surgery. The stations were in remarkably good shape, corrosion-free despite being next to an ocean. This may be a result of the near-continuous ice cover for the past few years — a string of cool summers since about 2008 have slowed the pace of ice evolution, and kept sea ice on the Larsen B embayment for the past four summers now. Unlike the Larsen A bay, the Larsen B shows no real signs of breaking out this year.

We first repaired the seismic sensor, attaching cables and re-booting – after all, we are the Cable Guys. The seismic sensor is intended to monitor large iceberg calving events on the nearby Hektoria and Crane Glaciers, and any continental seismicity that may be present. The sensor is located beneath a mound of rocks next to the power and communications box. A key step in the repair is the Jump Test — do we see a signal from the sensor reaching the box? ‘I got this!’ Rob says. And indeed, this is the job he was born to do. A thunderous leap and impact threatened to crack off the entire cliff we were standing on…. but when the dust had cleared, there it was: a clear spike in the data, practically spelling the word ‘Rob’ — or perhaps ‘Help!’.

The Instruments at Foyn Point

The Instruments at Foyn Point

Terry and Ted Look Inside the GPS

Terry and Ted Look Inside the GPS

The Jump Test

The Jump Test

We then repaired the GPS sensor, and called the groups managing the data reception on our Iridium phone. Success, and proven success, because the data was seen to be arriving back in the U.S.  We celebrated with a lunch extracted from our massive box of ‘snacks’ (just under 50 lbs).

On our return, we had a brief ground visit to Matienzo, to take some pictures and get a quick evaluation of how it would be useful to a larger group as a logistical base. It looks perfect, but in need of a little sprucing up.

Terry Matienzo

Terry Matienzo

We are now waiting on weather again for one possible opportunity to go to the second site – Cape Marsh, but we are prepared to depart at the next opportunity to go north. Looks like that may be February 26, a bit later than we’d hoped.

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In Marambio

February 18, 2014

Terry writes:

Ted and Rob had decidedly mixed feelings about returning to Base Marambio, a.k.a. Base Mondongo, after their one-month stint in 2006, but they admit that so far the food has been surprisingly good (and tripe-free). Of course a vegetarian would have a tough time here.

Marambio Welcomes You

Marambio Welcomes You

Marambio Street Sign

Marambio Street Sign

Marambio Dining Hall

Marambio Dining Hall

The sleeping quarters are also a bit of a challenge. The three of us are sharing a room with three other men, none of whom speak much English, but more than any of us speak 
Spanish. The ear plugs we brought for the C-130 flight are even more necessary in Room 15 once the snoring cranks up around 3:00 a.m. But the worst part of our stay so far has been our frustration in trying to get to our field sites.

Marambio Bunk House

Marambio Bunk Room 15

We spent our second day here (Thu 2/13) repacking our field equipment in anticipation of a Friday morning helicopter flight. Then at 8:30 a.m. we awoke to bright sunshine and had our equipment moved to the pad only to find out that only one helicopter would be flying one field team to their site and it wasn’t us. Later that evening we were told that no helicopters would be flying Saturday, but that Sunday would possible.

Our Gear in Flying Boxes

Our Gear in Flying Boxes

All Our Gear

All Our Gear

Helo Flying Over Base Marambio

Helo Flying Over Base Marambio

Saturday (today) we again woke to bright sunshine but were told that Sunday nobody would be flying helicopters due to a poor weather forecast. So now our hopes are on Monday for which the forecast again looks good.

The Guys Looking Out Over Base Marambio

The Guys Looking Out Over Base Marambio

View from Base Marambio

View from Base Marambio

We took advantage of the good weather this morning to take a two hour hike down a few hundred feet to a point northeast of the runway and about 150 feet above the water. On the way, we observed an armada of bergy bits being blown to the southwest by a stiff breeze in our faces. We also found mounds of fossil clams and snails eroded out from local sedimentary deposits mixed with an assortment of igneous rocks that had been transported east from the Antarctic Peninsula by long departed glaciers.

Rob and Terry Start Their Saturday Hike

Rob and Terry Start Their Saturday Hike

Ted Joins Rob and Terry for Saturday Hike

Ted Joins Rob and Terry for Saturday Hike

Are They Lost?

Are They Lost?

Ice Puzzle 1

Ice Puzzle 1

Ice Puzzle 2

Ice Puzzle 2

Man and Antarctica

Man and Antarctica

Regarding Ice

Regarding Ice

Saturday night is party night in Marambio, and the pulse of the station picks up. Slightly. Everyone is issued two beers (yay!) and dinner is something fun — for this Saturday, steak sandwiches. Beef is kind of an “Argentina thing.”

So now, again, we wait.

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Leaving El Palomar

February 17, 2014

Terry writes:

Following the Night of the Tormentas, we ended up spending three more nights there, punctuated by sweltering days, humid nights, occasional storms, numerous power outages, and even losses of running water. We were hopeful that each day would be our last, and even got as far as turning in our linen one morning only to hear that there were continuing problems with getting our C-130 tested. Following that disappointment, we were issued new linens and were thrilled to see the plane takeoff and make four circuits around the base.

We were then told to have our new linens checked in and have our bags ready for pickup at 8:00 a.m. the next morning. We had our usual beers at La Fortunata that afternoon, followed by our first and only off-base dinner at Zarco, an Italian place.

Last Dinner Off Base at Zarco, an Italian Restaurant

Last Dinner Off Base at Zarco, an Italian Restaurant

The next morning went off more or less as planned, and we took off at about 10:00 a.m. for Ushuaia, about five hours south of El Palomar. There we dropped off half our passengers who were bound for Argentine bases other than Marambio, while we took a few photos of the surrounding sunlit mountains and glaciers, huddling behind a wall to shield ourselves from a chilly 30 knot breeze, and waiting for our C-130 to be refueled.

On Board the C-130 Flying to Ushuaia

On Board the C-130 Flying to Ushuaia

The C-130 Being Refueled

The C-130 Being Refueled

Thirty minutes later we were again airborne, this time heading for rainy Rio Gallegos. IAA maintains a very nice barracks area there (Rio Gallegos is another Fuerza Aerea base). We were served two meals, pasta and beef at about 4:00 p.m., and polenta and beef at about 9:00 p.m. Some of us read books, while the others watched “Battleship,” a US Navy recruiting film in English with Spanish subtitles disguised as a science fiction thriller. Spoiler alert: the Earthlings win.

Rio Gallegos DNA Building

Rio Gallegos DNA Building

Rio Gallegos Messhall

Rio Gallegos Mess Hall

The next morning we awoke to a cloud-free sky above a landscape reminiscent of eastern Colorado. We watched from the passenger terminal as our cargo was reloaded, and then stepped aboard the C-130 for the final leg of our now 14-day journey south. After an uneventful four hour flight, we touched down in Marambio.

Terry Enjoying His Stay at El Palomar

Terry Watching from the Passenger Terminal as the Cargo Is Reloaded

Rob Making the Best of His Spare Time at El Palomar

Rob Watching from the Passenger Terminal as the Cargo Is Reloaded

C-130 Cargo Plane being Reloaded in Rio Gallegos

C-130 Cargo Plane being Reloaded in Rio Gallegos

Boarding the C-130 for the Fnal Leg of Our Now 14-Day Journey South

Boarding the C-130 for the Final Leg of Our 14-Day Journey South

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