Four years, two expeditions and one robot. That’s what it took for a multinational group of scientists to create what they claim is the first ever high resolution 3D map of sea ice in Antarctica.
The project started back in 2010 aboard the Royal Research Ship James Clark Ross, fighting its way through ice to reach the Bellinghausen Sea in Antarctica.
Once there, the researchers dropped an underwater robot equipped with sonar underneath the ice. Its mission was to start mapping the underside of 500,000 square metres of sea ice. Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey say the team wanted to put together a puzzle of sorts, matching data from underneath the ice with satellite imagery from the top in an effort to gauge the thickness of the sea ice.
“What we are trying to do is trying to look at how the surface features and map on the bottom features and from that we will be able to take satellite images that map the surface of the sea ice and therefore use an equation to take that surface mapping and create an ice thickness from that,” explained Dr Jeremy Wilkinson, British Antarctic Survey.
And by obtaining ice thickness measurements and its changes over time the scientists can produce more accurate models of the rate at which the planet is warming.
“Sea ice is important if you are in a spacecraft looking at the Earth you look at the polar regions. They are very, very white and that is reflecting a lot of the sunlight back into space. And therefore if you remove that white cap from the poles you get more solar radiation being absorbed, which in turn will heat the planet,” said Dr Jeremy Wilkinson.
Wilkinson says the area of sea ice has reduced dramatically in the Bellinghausen Sea in recent years and he hopes these new measurements will help the researchers figure out why.