Antarctic Ice Flow Critical To Health Of The Planet
April 10, 2013

Go With The Flow: Movement Of Ice Key Indicator Of Antarctic Health

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

"Go with the flow" has been a standard, if somewhat glib, piece of nearly universally applicable advice for a long time — and never more so than now. Shujie Wang, a geography doctoral student at the University of Cincinnati's McMicken College of Arts & Sciences, recently led a team of researchers who discovered that the best way to monitor the environmental health of the Antarctic is just to go with the flow. The ice flow, that is.

According to a number of scientists, the environmental health of Antarctica is an important parameter to track because as it goes, so goes the health of the world.

“The ice sheet in Antarctica is the largest fresh water reservoir on Earth, and if it were totally melted, the sea level would rise by more than 60 meters. So it is quite important to measure the ice mass loss there,” explains Wang.

Wang is presenting her research this week at the Association of American Geographers annual meeting where more than 7,000 scientists from around the world attend an interdisciplinary forum featuring an array of geography-related presentations, workshops and field trips.

At 5.5 million square miles, Antarctica's windswept, mountainous ice desert is the fifth largest continent and is covered in a sheet of ice more than a mile thick on average. Chunks of ice are funneled across the province of penguins, outlet glaciers and ice streams into the ocean, where they eventually melt into the warmer waters.

Researchers warn that a chain reaction of negative ecological effects could take place across the planet if this ice began to melt at an abnormally high rate, causing an elevation in the sea level.

Wang's research employs remote-sensing satellite imagery to gather data on Antarctica's ice motion. In particular, she is interested in determining changes in the ice flow velocity, since the faster ice moves, the faster it´s lost. Wang hopes to better understand the process of ice motion and be able to predict changes to Antarctica´s landscape by calculating that velocity at different time intervals. Her plan is to develop simulation models of the ice sheet dynamics that will allow her to estimate any influence on the sea level.

“I hope to provide valuable research to the academia of global change studies,” Wang says.