Underneath Antarctica: A Robot’s Journey Below Thwaite’s Glacier

The International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration

The United States and the United Kingdom are engaged in a collaborative effort to investigate Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier.  The collaboration is divided up into eight groups.  Four of these focus on naturally occurring processes, two on historical data, and two on modelling.

MELT

One of the process groups is called MELT, and they study how warm water affects the glacier at the grounding line, or the point at which a glacier floats and becomes an ice shelf.  Radar, airborne flights, seismic surveys, sensors, sounders, and cameras, all that will be deployed before this study is done.  But that's not all.  MELT has a submersible robot.  It's name is Icefin, and it has already gone exploring where no man has gone before.

Icefin

Icefin is a hybrid remote or autonomous underwater vehicle.  That means it can be piloted, or go by itself.  It can use sonar, chemical, and biological sensors to gather data from it's surrounding environment.   It can also take pictures.  It has a list of other things it can do, some of which is beyond my paygrade (doppler what???).  It's designed to explore earth's icy oceans, with an eye to eventually exploring the oceans of other worlds.

A Robot's Journey

Thwaites Glacier is roughly the size of Florida or Britain, and is considered one of the most unstable glaciers in Antarctica.  Changes are taking place in the glacier, many in areas inaccessible to humans.  Scientists wanted to monitor this dangerous place, as well as study how glaciers change with time.  Enter the robot.

The scientists drilled a hole in the ice nearly half a mile deep, and lowered the robot.  Icefin then went on a journey, investigating properties of the water and of the seafloor.  It searched for life.  And it did this miles underneath the ice.

Resources:

International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration

Life Under the Ice

Georgia Tech's News Center on Icefin

Youtube Video - https://schmidt.eas.gatech.edu/2019-field/firstlookunderthwaitesglacier/

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