IGPP's Helen Fricker shares the "immense privilege" she felt exploring the Larsen A inlet on the Antarctic Peninsula, in the NW Weddell Sea during her recent Antarctic Science Expedition.
Fricker sharing the expeirence in her own words:
A highlight of the Antarctic Science Expedition was our visit to our farthest destination—the Larsen A inlet on the Antarctic Peninsula, in the NW Weddell Sea. This area is “ground zero” for Antarctic Ice Sheet change, as Larsen A Ice Shelf collapsed in 1995, followed in 2003 by Larsen B to its south. When Larsen A collapsed, I was a 1st year PhD student in Hobart. A couple of years later I attended a conference talk where its collapse was presented as a sequence of satellite images, and attributed to warming air temperatures driving surface melting and "hydrofracture". The image sequence was so stunning and the collapse so rapid that it took us all by surprise; I recall many of us in the audience being so shocked that we gasped and dropped our jaws to the floor. This was a big wake-up call for our community as until then we thought ice sheets changed slowly. It was not so much the collapse of the ice shelf that caused alarm — that ice is already floating — but the fact that the ice behind the ice shelves, that sits on land, began to flow faster into the ocean. This is because ice shelves act like a buttress for the grounded ice; if you weaken that buttress, the ice it is holding back will flow faster. So the Larsen A collapse event was especially significant for glaciologists. On Legend, we navigated and pushed through thick sea ice for many hours, and eventually launched the Zodiacs to take us through the ice mélange to the shore at Cabe Sobral. This was the former ice sheet grounding line (where it met the ocean and formed Larsen A Ice Shelf) and it is now an ice-free beach. It turns out that we were the first people to have landed on that new beach, and we saw a running stream with algae in it showing that this region has already started adapting to the deglaciation. It was an honour to experience this with this incredible group of people.
-- Helen Amanda Fricker