Servicing of equipment at the GNSS monitoring sites

Scott Base staff helped with digging and the servicing of equipment at the GNSS monitoring sites. Photo: Alanna Alevropoulos-Borrill

GNSS data tracks speed of Ross Ice Shelf movement

17 June 2024

Researchers are using high temporal resolution Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) receivers to monitor the health of the northwestern Ross Ice Shelf.

The Ross Ice Shelf acts as a plug, slowing thick grounded ice from flowing out from the continent into the sea. The ice shelf therefore plays a vital role in stabilising the East and West Antarctic ice sheets. When sensitive areas of the ice shelf are melted by the ocean below, the shelf thins, causing grounded ice from the continent to flow faster into the ocean. As the ice locked up behind the Ross Ice Shelf has the potential to raise global sea levels by 12 m, accelerated ice loss from the region could have substantial consequences for global sea level rise.

In the 2023-2024 season, the research team re-visited five out of six sites spanning over ~300 km over the northwestern ice shelf. Their focus was to obtain ground truth data to validate satellites and models, and to explore the change in ice speed that occurs over winter months where ice speed is harder to monitor.

Twin Otter and snow removal

The team were flown to each site. The first task was to remove the accumulated snow to access the monitoring equipment. Photo: Alanna Alevropoulos-Borrill

Field leader Alanna Alevropoulos-Borrill worked alongside Scott Base electricians and science technician to carry out the fieldwork. All sites required digging out, data downloading and general maintenance, to ensure the velocity measurements are ongoing. Some sites also required upgrade to batteries and solar panels.

The recent field season allowed the team to extend the data record for two sites (to a total of four years) and to obtain data for the first time from three sites (installed two years ago).

This data provides a more detailed record of ice flow variability allowing us to more confidently determine what the climatic and dynamic drivers of change are. Furthermore, in generating this multi-year record, we can better observe the present evolution of the ice sheet and use this information to project future change.

This project is supported by the Antarctic Science Platform and Rutherford Discovery Fellowship funding (PI Nicholas Golledge). It has also allowed five early career researchers to gain Antarctic field experience through this package of field research. Read more about the all women research team in 2021.

Snow removal

Removing accumulated snow to access the monitoring equipment. Photo: Alanna Alevropoulos-Borrill