Researchers from The University of Texas at El Paso’s Department of Geological Sciences who took part in a multimillion-dollar, joint-research program initiated by the National Science Foundation and the United Kingdom’s Natural Environment Research Council to analyze a receding Antarctic glacier will discuss their work during a free event on Friday.
Marianne Karplus, Ph.D.; Steven Harder, Ph.D.; Galen Kaip; and their project collaborators will host “A TIME for Ice,” a polar science public outreach event, from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Friday, March 22, 2019, at the Geological Sciences Building on campus.
The public is invited to attend activities scheduled throughout the afternoon including a public forum on Antarctica and glaciers from 2 to 3 p.m. in Room 123 as well as more informal science activities from 3 to 4:30 p.m. in the Geology Reading Room on the third floor of the Geological Sciences Building.
During the public forum, there will be a live music performance by Henry Kaiser, a musician and videographer, who combines video from Antarctic dives with music.
The UTEP trio will be joined by researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz; Stanford University; the University of Oklahoma; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the University of Cambridge; and the University of Leeds who are participating in the Thwaites Interdisciplinary Margin Evolution (TIME) project, part of the larger International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Environment Research Council.
The TIME project, which began in October 2018, is a six-year effort to collect and analyze new data on the current behavior and future evolution of Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica.
“Our project aims to better understand the behavior of the shear margins of Thwaites Glacier, where the ice goes from moving quickly on the glacier to being almost stationary off the glacier,” said Karplus, assistant professor of geological sciences.
Karplus documented the UTEP researchers’ efforts during their time in Antarctica with regular blog posts. This year, the team tested precision seismic imaging techniques that will be used in future field seasons together with GPS and radar surveys to collect new data on the current behavior and future evolution of Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica. These new data are expected to help improve computer models used to predict the future contribution of the West Antarctic ice sheet to global sea level changes.
West Antarctica has several dozen large coastal glaciers. Thwaites sits about 60 miles west of Pine Island Glacier. The section of Thwaites that touches the ocean sits in water 2,000 feet deep. Farther inland, the bed of the glacier slants downward.
This deepening groove connects to the center of West Antarctica about 310 miles inland. There, the ice is up to 11,000 feet thick. As the ice cliffs of Thwaites begin to crumble, each collapse will expose an even taller cliff behind it. These progressively higher cliffs will be exposed to warmer ocean water and could subsequently collapse progressively faster.
“Because Thwaites is such a large glacier [and is] largely on land, if it continues to melt or break apart, the parts that are on shore will contribute to sea level rise,” said Karplus, “Understanding the processes at the margin will help us understand how much and how fast the ice of Thwaites Glacier could collapse into the ocean and contribute to sea level rise.”