Voices from Antarctica

Hot water is playing a key role in understanding how Antarctic ice responds to a warming world.

Ninety percent of the world’s freshwater is locked up as ice in Antarctica and scientists are working to better understand what might happen with all that ice in a warming world.

Research equipment setup on ice.

Researchers from the Antarctic Research Centre and from the University of Otago are studying the Kamb Ice Stream, an enormous river of ice that drains from West Antarctica and feeds the world’s largest floating ice shelf, the Ross Ice Shelf.

Scientists have discovered that ice streams turn on and off, stalling for decades and even hundreds of years before starting to move again. Huw Horgan, ARC's researcher says that Kamb ice stream stalled about 170 years ago and researchers are investigating why.

The research is part of an Antarctic Science Platform project called Antarctic Ice Dynamics.

The 2019 research season took place on the Siple Coast, which is the grounding line of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, where the ice meets the ocean and starts to float, becoming the Ross Ice Shelf. It is as far south as the ocean reaches anywhere in the world.

The researchers use a hot water drill to melt through 600-metres of ice, to reach the water and sea floor below.

Driller Darcy Mandeno, ARC's Operations and Field Engineer, says the drill will take about 12 hours to make a 35 centimetre diameter hole, through which the researchers can lower various instruments to measure physical attributes of the water, as well as drill a short sediment core.

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