These Antarctic Research Photos Look Like Exploration on Another Planet

Researchers work in the Antarctic polar night during a storm (Credit: Stefan Hendricks, Alfred Wegner Institute)

Some day, human explorers will land a spacecraft on the surface of Europa, Enceladus, Titan, or some other icy world and investigate first-hand the secrets hidden beneath its frozen surface. When that day comes — and it can’t come too soon for me! — it may look a lot like this.

One of a series of amazing photos by Stefan Hendricks taken during the Antarctic Winter Ecosystem & Climate Study (AWECS), a study of Antarctica’s sea ice conducted by the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, the image above shows researchers working on the Antarctic ice during a winter snowstorm. It’s easy to imagine them on the night-side surface of Europa, with the research vessel Polarstern standing in for a distant illuminated lander (albeit rather oversized).

Hey, one can dream!

One of the goals of the campaign, called CryoVex, was to look at how ESA’s CryoSat mission can be used to understand the thickness of sea ice in Antarctica. The extent of the Antarctic sea ice in winter is currently more than normal, which could be linked to changing atmospheric patterns.

Antarctica’s massive shelves of sea ice in winter are quite dramatic landscapes, and remind us that there are very alien places right here on our own planet.

See this and more photos from the mission on the ESA website (really, go check them out!)

What Does Antarctica Look Like Under the Ice?

New topography map of Antarctica by the British Antarctic Survey's Bedmap2 (NASA/GSFC)

Although it sits isolated at the “bottom of the world” Antarctica is one of the most influential continents on Earth, affecting weather, climate, and ocean current patterns over the entire planet. But Antarctica is also one of the most enigmatic landmasses too, incredibly remote, extremely harsh, and covered by a layer of ice over 2 km thick. And as Earth’s global temperature continues to climb steadily higher, the future of ice in Antarctica — a continent half again as large as the contiguous United States — is a big concern for scientists… but in order to know exactly how its ice will behave to changing conditions, they need to know what’s under it.

This is where the British Antarctic Survey — using data gathered by NASA’s ICESat and Operation IceBridge missions — comes in, giving us a better view of what lies beneath the southern continent’s frozen veil.

A new dataset called Bedmap2 gives a clearer picture of Antarctica from the ice surface down to the bedrock below. Bedmap2 is a significant improvement on the previous collection of Antarctic data — known as Bedmap — that was produced more than 10 years ago. The product was a result of work led by the British Antarctic Survey, where researchers compiled decades worth of geophysical measurements, such as surface elevation measurements from NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) and ice thickness data collected by Operation IceBridge.

Bedmap2, like the original Bedmap, is a collection of three datasets—surface elevation, ice thickness and bedrock topography. Both Bedmap and Bedmap2 are laid out as grids covering the entire continent, but with a tighter grid spacing Bedmap2 includes many surface and sub-ice features too small to be seen in the previous dataset. Additionally, the extensive use of GPS data in more recent surveys improves the precision of the new dataset.

Improvements in resolution, coverage and precision will lead to more accurate calculations of ice volume and potential contribution to sea level rise.

Ice sheet researchers use computer models to simulate how ice sheets will respond to changes in ocean and air temperatures. An advantage of these simulations is that they allow testing of many different climate scenarios, but the models are limited by how accurate the data on ice volume and sub-ice terrain are.

Only the tips of many of Antarctica's mountains are visible above thousands of feet of ice. (Oct. 2012 IceBridge photo. Credit: NASA / Christy Hansen)
Only the tips of many of Antarctica’s mountains are visible above thousands of feet of ice. (Oct. 2012 IceBridge photo. Credit: NASA / Christy Hansen)

“In order to accurately simulate the dynamic response of ice sheets to changing environmental conditions, such as temperature and snow accumulation, we need to know the shape and structure of the bedrock below the ice sheets in great detail,” said Michael Studinger, IceBridge project scientist at NASA Goddard.

Knowing what the bedrock looks like is important for ice sheet modeling because features in the bed control the ice’s shape and affect how it moves. Ice will flow faster on a downhill slope, while an uphill slope or bumpy terrain can slow an ice sheet down or even hold it in place temporarily. “The shape of the bed is the most important unknown, and affect how ice can flow,” said Nowicki. “You can influence how honey spreads on your plate, by simply varying how you hold your plate.” The vastly improved bedrock data included in Bedmap2 should provide the level of detail needed for models to be realistic.

Bedmap2 data of Antarctica's bedrock. Verical elevation has been exaggerated by 17x. (NASA/GSFC)
Bedmap2 data of Antarctica’s bedrock. Verical elevation has been exaggerated by 17x. (NASA/GSFC)

“It will be an important resource for the next generation of ice sheet modelers, physical oceanographers and structural geologists,” said Peter Fretwell, BAS scientist and lead author.

The BAS’ work was published recently in the journal The Cryosphere. Read more on the original release by George Hale here.

Source: NASA Earth

Super Good at Collecting Data, Massive Science Balloon Breaks Records

Super-TIGER prepares for launch from Antarctica.

NASA’s Super-TIGER science balloon landed Friday at a frigid and remote base in Antarctica after setting two duration records while gathering data about cosmic rays. There’s so much data that it will take scientists about two years to analyze, according to NASA.

Launched December 8, 2012 from the Long Duration Balloon site near McMurdo Station in Antarctica, the Super Trans-Iron Galactic Element Recorder balloon spent 55 days, 1 hour and 34 minutes aloft, shattering records previously set in 2009 by another NASA balloon for longest flight by a balloon of its size. The 39-million cubic foot balloon, spent most of its time cruising four times higher than commercial airlines at about 127,000 feet (almost 39 kilometers). The instrument is managed by Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

“Scientific balloons give scientists the ability to gather critical science data for a long duration at a very low relative cost,” said Vernon Jones, NASA’s Balloon Program scientist, in the press release. “Super-TIGER is scientific ballooning at its best.”

Super-TIGER measured rare heavy elements, such as iron, as they bombarded Earth from the Milky Way. The instrument detected about 50 million of these high-energy cosmic rays. Scientists hope the data from the mission will help understand where the energetic nuclei are produced and how they achieve such high energies.

NASA had three long-duration balloon missions in the summer skies of Antarctica. SuperTIGER was joined by BLAST and EBEX. All three balloons launched from the site near McMurdo Station in December. BLAST, or Balloon Borne Large Aperture Submillimeter Telescope launched Christmas Day and measured the polarized dust in star-forming regions helping astronomers determine if magnetic fields are a dominant force over turbulence in star-forming regions of the galaxy. BLAST’s mission lasted just over 16 days.

EBEX, the heaviest scientific payload borne aloft by a NASA balloon, measures cosmic microwave background radiation. The mission lasted 25 days and reached altitudes of 118,000 feet (or 36 kilometers).

Antarctica, it turns out, is ideal for these types of long-duration balloon missions with sparse populations and anticyclonic (east to west, counter-clockwise in the southern hemisphere) wind patterns in the stratosphere.

Source: NASA

New South Pole Marker Honors Planets, Pluto, and Armstrong

The new geographic South Pole marker that stands at 90º S latitude. (Credit: Jeffrey Donenfeld)

Because the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station sits atop a layer of moving ice almost 2 miles thick, the location of the marker for the Earth’s geographic South Pole needs to be relocated regularly. Tradition has this done on New Year’s Day, and so this past January 1 saw the unveiling of the newest South Pole marker: a beautiful brass-and-copper design created by Station machinist Derek Aboltins.

pole-marker-top-closeup-1The top of the marker has seven small discs that represent the planets in the positions they would be in on Jan. 1, 2013, as well as two larger discs representing the setting Sun and Moon. Next to the Moon disc are the engraved words “Accomplishment & Modesty,” a nod to the first man on the Moon.

“This was a reference to honor Neil Armstrong, as he passed away when I was making this section with the moon,” Aboltins said.

And for folks who might think the planet count on the new marker is one too few, a surprise has been tucked away on the reverse side.

“For those of you who still think Pluto should be a planet, you’ll find it included underneath, just to keep everyone happy,” Aboltins said. “Bring back Pluto, I say!”

And so, on the underside of the marker along with the signatures of South Pole Station researchers and workers, is one more disc — just for the distant “demoted” dwarf planet.

pole-marker-underside

Underside of the South Pole marker (Credit: Jeffrey Donenfeld)

“For those of you who still think Pluto should be a planet, you’ll find it included underneath, just to keep everyone happy!”

– Derek Aboltins, designer and machinist

(See high resolution versions of these images here.)

The marker was placed during a ceremony on the ice on Jan. 1, during which time the previous flag marker was removed and put into its new position.

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(Photo credit: Jeffrey Donenfeld)

According to The Antarctic Sun:

“Almost all hands were present for the ceremony, including station manager Bill Coughran, winter site manager Weeks Heist, and National Science Foundation representative Vladimir Papitashvili. The weather was sunny and a warm at just below minus 14 degrees Fahrenheit.”

(Even though it’s mid-summer in Antarctica, “warm” is clearly a relative term!)

Read more about this and other Antarctic news on The Antarctic Sun site, and see more photos from Antarctica by Jeffrey Donenfeld here.

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Named for explorers Roald Amundsen and Robert F. Scott, who attained the South Pole in 1911 and 1912, the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station stands at an elevation of 2,835 meters (9,306 feet) on Antarctica’s ice sheet, which is about 2,700 meters (9,000 feet) thick at that location. The station drifts with the ice sheet at about 10 meters (33 feet) each year. Research is conducted at the station in the fields of astronomy, astrophysics, glaciology, geophysics and seismology, ocean and climate systems, biology, and medicine.

The Most Remote Workplace on Earth

ESA’s Proba-1 satellite imaged the French-Italian Concordia base on November 21, 2012 (ESA)

Located in one of the loneliest locations on Earth, the French-Italian Concordia station was captured on high-resolution camera by ESA’s Proba-1 microsatellite last month, showing the snow-covered base and 25 square kilometers of the virtually featureless expanse of Antarctic ice surrounding it.

A cluster of scientific research buildings situated 3233 meters above sea level in the Antarctic interior, Concordia is one of the only permanently-crewed stations on the southern continent. Around 12–15 researchers and engineers spend months — sometimes over a year —  in isolation at Concordia, where during the winter months there are no deliveries, no chance of evacuation, temperatures below -80 ºC (-112 ºF) and the next closest station is 600 km (370 miles) away. It’s like working on another planet.

And that’s precisely why they’re there.

The researchers who live and work at Concordia are there because of the station’s incredible remoteness and harsh conditions. This allows them to study not only the pristine Antarctic ice beneath their feet but also how humans behave in such an environment, where a small team must learn to work together and merely venturing outside can be a hazardous task.

It’s the next closest thing to an actual outpost on Mars, or the Moon. Even the astronauts on the ISS aren’t as far removed from the rest of the world.

(Although the night sky views from Concordia can be comparably stunning.)

Concordia Base boasts some of the clearest, darkest — and coldest — skies on Earth (ESA/IPEV/PNRA – A. Salam)

Read more: Milky Way to Concordia Base… Come In, Concordia Base…

“Boredom and monotony are the enemy,” wrote ESA-sponsored medical researcher Dr. Alex Salam, regarding his 2009 13-month stay. “The darkness has a habit of sucking the motivation out of even the hardiest. But despite the effects the darkness can have on sleep, mood and cognitive performance, there is something inherently special about the Antarctic night. The heavens present a view that many stargazers can only ever dream of. You just have to try and catch a glimpse of the stars before your eyelashes freeze together!

“Seeing the station from a distance with the Milky Way towering far above it never failed to make me feel both awe inspired and simultaneously insignificant.”

And another recent long-term resident of Concordia, Dr. Alexander Kumar, who departed the base on November 15, shared this reflection as his year-long term was approaching its end:

“Concordia has, in removing me from civilisation where sometimes it is harder to step back, enabled me to see the bigger picture, provide a unique experience and reminded me of somethings, setting a course and direction for the future… I think once you come to Antarctica, drawn to it under a spell like a seaman to a mermaid, you never can break the link you form with this raw, rugged and ruthlessly beautiful and enticing continent.”

 The Sun returns to the Antarctic plateau (ESA/IPEV/PNRA – A. Salam)

“It’s the closest thing I’ll ever have to living on another planet.”

– Dr. Alex Salam

Read more about Concordia on the newly-redesigned ESA site here.

In orbit for over 11 years, Proba-1’s unique images are used by hundreds of scientific teams worldwide. To date its main Compact High Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (CHRIS) has acquired over 20,000 environmental science images used by a total of 446 research groups in 60 countries.

In an Isolated, Ice-Covered Antarctic Lake Far Below Freezing, Life is Found

Lake Vida lies within one of Antarctica’s cold, arid McMurdo Dry Valleys (Photo: Desert Research Institute)

Even inside an almost completely frozen lake within Antarctica’s inland dry valleys, in dark, salt-laden and sub-freezing water full of nitrous oxide, life thrives… offering a clue at what might one day be found in similar environments elsewhere in the Solar System.


Researchers from NASA, the Desert Research Institute in Nevada, the University of Illinois at Chicago and nine other institutions have discovered colonies of bacteria living in one of the most isolated places on Earth: Antarctica’s Lake Vida, located in Victoria Valley — one of the southern continent’s incredibly arid McMurdo Dry Valleys.

These organisms seem to be thriving despite the harsh conditions. Covered by 20 meters (65 feet) of ice, the water in  Lake Vida is six times saltier than seawater and contains the highest levels of nitrous oxide ever found in a natural body of water. Sunlight doesn’t penetrate very far below the frozen surface, and due to the hypersaline conditions and pressure of the ice water temperatures can plunge to a frigid -13.5 ºC (8 ºF).

Yet even within such a seemingly inhospitable environment Lake Vida is host to a “surprisingly diverse and abundant assemblage of bacteria” existing within water channels branching through the ice, separated from the sun’s energy and isolated from exterior influences for an estimated 3,000 years.

Originally thought to be frozen solid, ground penetrating radar surveys in 1995 revealed a very salty liquid layer (a brine) underlying the lake’s year-round 20-meter-thick ice cover.

“This study provides a window into one of the most unique ecosystems on Earth,” said Dr. Alison Murray, one of the lead authors of the team’s paper, a molecular microbial ecologist and polar researcher and a member of 14 expeditions to the Southern Ocean and Antarctic continent. “Our knowledge of geochemical and microbial processes in lightless icy environments, especially at subzero temperatures, has been mostly unknown up until now. This work expands our understanding of the types of life that can survive in these isolated, cryoecosystems and how different strategies may be used to exist in such challenging environments.”

Sterile environments had to be set up within tents on Lake Vida’s surface so the researchers could be sure that the core samples they were drilling were pristine, and weren’t being contaminated with any introduced organisms.

According to a NASA press release, “geochemical analyses suggest chemical reactions between the brine and the underlying iron-rich sediments generate nitrous oxide and molecular hydrogen. The latter, in part, may provide the energy needed to support the brine’s diverse microbial life.”

“This system is probably the best analog we have for possible ecosystems in the subsurface waters of Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa.”

– Chris McKay, co-author, NASA’s Ames Research Center

What’s particularly exciting is the similarity between conditions found in ice-covered Antarctic lakes and those that could be found on other worlds in our Solar System. If life could survive in Lake Vida, as harsh and isolated as it is, could it also be found beneath the icy surface of Europa, or within the (hypothesized) subsurface oceans of Enceladus? And what about the ice caps of Mars? Might there be similar channels of super-salty liquid water running through Mars’ ice, with microbes eking out an existence on iron sediments?

“It’s plausible that a life-supporting energy source exists solely from the chemical reaction between anoxic salt water and the rock,” explained Dr. Christian Fritsen, a systems microbial ecologist and Research Professor in DRI’s Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences and co-author of the study.

“If that’s the case,” Murray added, “this gives us an entirely new framework for thinking of how life can be supported in cryoecosystems on earth and in other icy worlds of the universe.”

Read more: Europa’s Hidden Great Lakes May Harbor Life

More research is planned to study the chemical interactions between the sediment and the brine as well as the genetic makeup of the microbial communities themselves.

The research was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). Read more on the DRI press release here, and watch a video below showing highlights from the field research.

Funding for the research was supported jointly by NSF and NASA. Images courtesy the Desert Research Institute. Dry valley image credit: NASA/Landsat. Europa image: NASA/Ted Stryk.)

Once in a Lifetime Image: Emperor Penguins Under the Aurora Australis

Emperor Penguins on the Antarctic Sea Ice Under the Aurora Australis. Credit and copyright: Stefan Christmann. Used by permission.

Photographer Stefan Christmann called this incredible Antarctic view a once in a lifetime experience.

“It was the most impressive experience to sit on the sea-ice and watch the Aurora Australis dance above the penguin colony with the sounds of the chicks and the adult penguins. I feel truly blessed for having had the opportunity to witness this once in a lifetime experience,” he told Universe Today.

Christmann is currently based in Antarctica, working at the German Antarctic research station Neumayer III. He is an “overwinterer” — scientific and technical staff who stay at the base for the entire southern winter — and will stay in Antarctica for an uninterrupted 14 months. “As a physicist, my duty is to maintain the data acquisition of our seismological and geomagnetic observatories as well as the analysis of the collected data,” Christmann said.

But he is also an accomplished photographer. His website and Facebook page are filled with beautiful nature images from around the world, and recently feature the Emperor penguins and their adorable chicks, as well as the stark beauty of the Antarctic landscape.

Originally from Germany, he studied photography in the US, and his work has now brought him to an extended stay in Antarctica.

Christmann explained the conditions and the difficulties in obtaining this shot, one he had long hoped for, the planning of it always in the back of his mind.

“The picture was taken at Atka-Bay on the sea-ice. The bay is roughly 8 km away from our station so the penguin colony is a popular destination for free-time trips. The idea of a photo of the Aurora Australis above the penguin colony had been in my head for a long time, but the conditions have to be just right –which usually never happens. You need a full Moon, high magnetic activity and a cloudless sky. Also the penguins should be standing close enough to the ice-berg. I made multiple attempts to get the photo, but we either had incoming clouds, low activity or had to cancel our stay because of wind picking up (which can be really dangerous out on the sea-ice).”

And time was short, as after he had been outside for a few hours the wind picked up and he and his accomplices had to leave the ice for safety reasons. “Otherwise we probably would have sat there all night!” Christmann said. The image was taken on October 1, 2012.

Christmann shared what equipment he uses as well as a few tips for Antarctic and cold weather photography.

“I used a Nikon D700 Fullframe DSLR with an AF-S G-Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8. ISO settings varied with the intensity of the aurora from ISO 500-800,” he said. “F-Stops in the range of 4.0-5.6 and Exposure times from 20s to 30s. I try to keep ISO as low as possible for noise reasons and also try to limit the exposure time in order not to get star trails. It’s either super long star trails or almost star-dots, but I don’t really like the in between. A full battery charge (in my case around 2500mAh) lasts around 1h in the cold, so I had to switch batteries twice during our stay out on the ice!”

Asked what other details he felt was important to share about this image, Christmann said, “Antarctica is an incredible place where nature dwarfs anything made by humans. Hopefully people will gain even more interest in this continent and help to protect it as well as its inhabitants.”

To see more of Christmann’s work visit his website, Nature in Focus or his Facebook page, where he shares many pictures of his Antarctic adventure.

Please note: This image may not be re-posted, used or copied without the express permission of Stefan Christmann.

Aurora Over Antarctica: a “Teardrop From Heaven”

“We managed to snap a few photos before Heaven realised its mistake and closed its doors.”
– Dr. Alexander Kumar

This stunning photo of the Aurora Australis, set against a backdrop of the Milky Way, was captured from one of the most remote research locations on the planet: the French-Italian Concordia Base, located located at 3,200 meters (nearly 10,500 feet) altitude on the Antarctic plateau, 1,670 km (1,037 miles) from the geographic south pole.

The photo was taken on July 18 by resident doctor and scientist Dr. Alexander Kumar and his colleague Erick Bondoux.

Sparked by a coronal mass ejection emitted from active region 11520 on July 12, Earth’s aurorae leapt into high gear both in the northern and southern hemispheres three days later during the resulting geomagnetic storm — giving some wonderful views to skywatchers in locations like Alaska, Scotland, New Zealand… and even the South Pole.

“A raw display of one of nature’s most incredible sights dazzled our crew,” Dr. Kumar wrote on his blog, Chronicles from Concordia. “The wind died down and life became still. To me, it was if Heaven had opened its windows and a teardrop had fallen from high above our station, breaking the dark lonely polar night.

“We managed to snap a few photos before Heaven realised its mistake and closed its doors.”

With winter temperatures as low as -70ºC (-100ºF), no sunlight and no transportation in or out from May to August, Concordia Base is incredibly isolated — so much so that it’s used for research for missions to Mars, where future explorers will face many of the same challenges and extreme conditions that are found at the Base.

But even though they may be isolated, Dr. Kumar and his colleagues are in an excellent location to witness amazing views of the sky, the likes of which are hard to find anywhere else on Earth. Many thanks to them for braving the bitter cold and otherworldly environment to share images like this with us!

Read more on Concordia Base here.

Lead image: ESA/IPEV/ENEAA/A. Kumar & E. Bondoux. Sub-image: sunset at Concordia. ESA/IPEV/PNRA – A. Kumar

Milky Way to Concordia Base… Come In, Concordia Base…

This stunning photo of the Milky Way was captured from what may be the coldest and most isolated research facility on Earth: the French-Italian Concordia Base station, located at 3,200 meters (nearly 10,500 feet) altitude on the Antarctic plateau, 1,670 km (1,037 miles) from the geographic south pole.

Taken by Dr. Alexander Kumar, a doctor, researcher and photographer who’s been living at the Base since January, the image shows the full beauty of the sky above the southern continent — a sky that doesn’t see the Sun from May to August.

During the winter months no transportation can be made to or from Concordia Base — no deliveries or evacuations, not for any reason. The team there is truly alone, very much like future space explorers will one day be. This isolation is one reason that Concordia is used by ESA for research for missions to Mars.

Of course, taking photos outside is no easy task. Temperatures outside the Base in winter can drop down to -70ºC (-100ºF)!

 Still, despite the isolation, darkness and cold, Dr. Kumar finds inspiration in his surroundings.

“The dark may cause fear, but if you take the time to adapt and look within it, you never know what you may find – at the bottom of the ocean, in the night sky, or under your bed in the middle of the night,” writes Kumar on the Concordia blog. “If you don’t overcome your fear of the ‘unknown’ and ‘monsters’, you will never see marvellous secrets hidden in the dark.

“I hope this photo inspires you too for the days, weeks and months ahead. In terms of the space exploration we are only beginning. We have to continue pushing out into the great beyond.”

Read more of the “Chronicles from Concordia” here.

 Image credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA – A. Kumar

Antarctica’s Ice Being Eaten Away From Below

The 820-foot-wide crack in Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier, seen from DC-8 during Operation IceBridge (Credit: NASA/DMS)


Data collected from a NASA ice-watching satellite reveal that the vast ice shelves extending from the shores of  western Antarctica are being eaten away from underneath by ocean currents, which have been growing warmer even faster than the air above.

The animation above shows the circulation of ocean currents around the western Antarctic ice shelves. The shelf thickness is indicated by the color; red is thicker (greater than 550 meters), while blue is thinner (less than 200 meters).

Launched in January 2003, NASA’s ICESat (Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite) studied the changing mass and thickness of Antarctica’s ice from its location in polar orbit. An international research team used over 4.5 million surface height measurements collected by ICESat’s GLAS (Geoscience Laser Altimeter System) instrument from Oct. 2005 to 2008. They concluded that 20 of the 54 shelves studied — nearly half — were losing thickness from underneath.

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Most of the melting ice shelves are located in west Antarctica, where the flow of inland glaciers to the sea has also been accelerating — an effect that can be compounded by thinning ice shelves which, when grounded to the offshore seabed, serve as dams to hold glaciers back.

Melting of ice by ocean currents can occur even when air temperature remains cold, maintaining a steady process of ice loss — and eventually increased sea level rise.

“We can lose an awful lot of ice to the sea without ever having summers warm enough to make the snow on top of the glaciers melt,” said Hamish Pritchard of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge and the study’s lead author . “The oceans can do all the work from below.”

The study also found that Antarctica’s winds are shifting in response to climate change.

“This has affected the strength and direction of ocean currents,” Pritchard said. “As a result warm water is funnelled beneath the floating ice. These studies and our new results suggest Antarctica’s glaciers are responding rapidly to a changing climate.”

ICESat completed operations in 2010 and was decommissioned in August of that year. Its successor ICESat-2 is anticipated to launch in 2016.

Read more on NASA’s news release here.

Animation credit: NASA/Goddard CGI Lab