Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Antarctica’s Ice in Earth’s Climate System

        Can you identify the different types of ice in Antarctica?  New scientific discoveries are revealing information about the movement and flow of various types of ice in Antarctica and the information it can provide regarding our future in a changing climate.  Dr. Kathy Licht, Associate Professor of Earth Sciences at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) presented her research on Antarctica’s Ice in Earth’s Climate System at SUNY ESF on Tuesday March 31, 2015.  The event was part of the Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Spring Seminar Series, in conjunction with the Hydrology and Biogeochemistry Seminar Speaker Series.  This presentation was sponsored by The Department of Environmental Resources Engineering, the Environmental Scholars Program, the Graduate Student Association and the ESF Women’s Caucus.
            Dr. Licht discussed three types of ice found in Antarctica.  The ice sheet holds  most of the continent’s ice, touches bedrock, and is very thick, approximately 0.1-4.8 kilometers.  The ice shelf is floating ice which is connected to the ice sheet but has water underneath it and is 300-700 meters thick.  Sea ice is frozen sea water and it floats in chucks and is typically less than 10 meters thick. 
            The ice shelves on the west side of Antarctica are decreasing rapidly whereas the ice shelves on the east side are increasing slowing.  Globally, ice shelves are declining.  There has been a 70% increase in ice shelf mass loss in the past decade and this rate of loss is accelerating.  The breakdown of ice shelves into sea ice has made Antarctica a “sea ice factory.”  The ice in Antarctica flows like a river but on a much longer time scale.  When ice shelves break apart, there is nothing left to hold back the flow of glacial ice sheets which contributes to sea level rise.
            Dr. Licht and her research team have been sampling and analyzing zircon sand in an effort to better understand the movement and flow of Antarctica’s ice.  This knowledge will contribute to the accuracy of computer models used to predict the type of ice movement and ice shelf mass loss we might see in the future.  The sampled sand was dated using laser ablation and the age of sand grains from glaciers were compared with the age of sand grains under the sea, in order to get a picture of how ice has moved in the past.  The behavior of ice in Antarctica will have critical impacts on Earth’s climate system as a whole.
            At IUPUI, Dr. Licht advises the Geology Club and the Women in Science House.  She holds a BS in Natural Sciences from St. Norbert College and a MS and PhD in Geological Sciences from the University of Colorado, Boulder.  Last year, Dr. Licht won IUPUI’s School of Science Research Award.  Her work is supported by NSF Division of Polar Programs.

            For more information on the WiSE Professions Series, please visit http://www.esf.edu/womenscaucus.  For information on the Hydrology and Biogeochemistry seminar series including upcoming events for Spring 2015, please visit http://www.esf.edu/ere/courses/hbgsemi.htm

As part of their class requirements, students share responsibility for reporting on speakers in the WiSE Professions Speaker Series.  The preceding was prepared by Vanessa Gravenstine, MS Candidate, Graduate Program in Environmental Science (GPES).

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