|image: ABC News|
This winter has been a frosty reminder of bitter seasons past. But it's not
so bad compared to what a group of scientific adventurers endured. The team
was on a mission to measure climate change in an effort to learn whether the
Antarctic ice cap is shrinking or growing.
Braving the Antarctic's bitter cold is all in a day's work for researchers
scouring the planet for clues about global warming.
As shown on PBSâ€™s NOVA,
one group of researchers scaled the Antarctic's highest icy peak, Vinson Massif,
on a route never taken before.
"We want to know whether a glacier or ice sheet is growing or shrinking,
and to understand that we have to understand what's going into the glacier,
how much ice is accumulating on an annual basis," Dan Stone, senior hydrologist
with Boulder Coloradoâ€™s Geomega,
told NOVA while trekking
Knowing how much snow accumulates annually will help them do that.
|image: ABC News|
In Antarctica, most accumulation studies have been done at the lower elevations.
No one had studied accumulations this high in the continentâ€™s mountains
To gauge each year's snowfall, the team dug a series of pits at different elevations
as they made their way up Vinson--not easy to do because over time the snow
turns to ice and becomes part of the thick ice sheet that covers the continent.
"The snow will just keep getting harder and harder the deeper we dig,"
Stone told NOVA.
But after they dug through the more than six feet they needed to, they counted
and measured the snow layers like the rings in a tree. With each pit, Stone
and the others learned more about the snow and the way it changes seasonally.
Scientists worry that Antarctic ice that melts away or breaks off into the
ocean could raise sea levels that would engulf coastlines around the world.
published in the journal Science
indicates that at the current rate of melting, a part of the Antarctic ice
sheet the size of Texas and Colorado combined will disappear in 7,000 years.
That could push sea levels up sixteen feet. One of the studyâ€™s authors,
Stone, associate professor of earth and space sciences at the University
of Washington, said a sudden thaw that “released even a small fraction
of that amount could have disastrous consequences on coastal regions."
While Dan Stone evaluates what he learned, other scientists will avoid getting
cold feet by letting NASAâ€™s
newly launched satellite, Icesat,
measure the Antarctic's ice for them.
NOVA airs on PBS. For more information, visit pbs.org/nova.
The Study published in Science was supported by the National