An ice shelf collapses in Antarctica in February 2002. Photos courtesy National Snow and Ice Data Center

Starting in November, Scripps Institution of Oceanography researchers will embark on an ambitious mission to install a seismic array on Antarctica’s climate-threatened Ross Ice Shelf.

Scientists are concerned about whether sea level rise from increased melting in Greenland and Antarctica due to global warning could cause the sudden collapse of ice shelves, raising the sea level more.

A 16-station broadband seismic array will be deployed on the Ross Ice Shelf to measure its response to impacts from ocean swell and what are known as infragravity waves, which are created in shallow water from swell along coasts.

The team will operate from the temporary Yesterday Camp on the ice near the dateline (180° longitude) from Nov. 10 to Dec. 2, installing nearby stations with snowmobile transits and more distant stations by aircraft flights.

“Making baseline measurements is critical to identify the rate at which changes in the ice sheet are occurring, especially the subtle changes that can be recorded by seismometers that may escape detection by satellite altimetry or other means,” said Scripps research oceanographer Peter Bromirski, the project’s lead investigator.

The three-year project will involve a 24-month period of field observation that spans two full annual cycles on the Ross Ice Shelf.

Of all the components of the Antarctic Ice Sheet, ice shelves are the most vulnerable to climate change. The collapse of an ice shelf doesn’t affect sea level directly, but the shelf has an important function in restraining the flow of glacial ice into the sea, which does increase sea level.

The project is funded by National Science Foundation Polar Programs.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.