Yellow submarine to explore Antarctic glaciers

January 7, 2009

A yellow robot submarine will dive under an ice shelf in Antarctica to seek clues to world ocean level rises in one of the most inaccessible places on earth, reports our environment correspondent Alister Doyle. You can see his story here.

The 7-meter (22 ft) submarine, to be launched from a U.S. research vessel, will probe the underside of the ice at the end of the Pine Island glacier, which is moving faster than any other in Antarctica and already brings more water to the oceans than Europe’s Rhine River.

Scientists have long observed vast icebergs breaking off Antarctica’s ice shelves – extensions of glaciers floating on the sea – but have been unable to get beneath them to see how deep currents may be driving the melt from below.

 At Pine Island, the thinning of the shelf seems to be linked to a shift in deep ocean currents that are bringing warmer water from the depths; further north, several ice shelves have disintegrated in recent years apparently because of a warming of air temperatures that may be linked to global warming.

Scientists are going to the ends of the earth to monitor the possible effects of climate change. Watch this space for more reporting and discussion of their efforts.

(Photo: The yellow sub is readied for action. REUTERS/Alister Doyle, Jan 6, 2009)

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