2020-2021 Science Planning Summaries
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2020-2021 USAP Field Season
Project Detail

Project Title

Melting at Thwaites grounding zone and its control on sea level (THWAITES-MELT)

Melting at Thwaites grounding zone and its control on sea level (THWAITES-MELT)
C-444-M Research Location(s): Thwaites Ice Shelf, The Eastern Ice Shelf (Grounding Zone


Event Number:

Program Director:
Dr. Paul Cutler

ASC POC/Implementer:
Samina Ouda / Leslie Blank

Principal Investigator(s)

Dr. David Holland
New York University
Department of Earth Sciences
New York, New York

Dr. Keith Nicholls
British Antarctic Survey
Polar Oceans Team
Cambridge, United Kingdom


Supporting Stations: McMurdo Station
Research Locations: Thwaites Ice Shelf, The Eastern Ice Shelf (Grounding Zone


Thwaites Glacier is a primary contributor to sea-level rise, and its flow is accelerating in response to reduced buttressing from a floating ice shelf, which is thinning due to ocean-driven melting from below. Thus, the degree to which sea-level rise will occur depends largely on the ice-ocean interaction beneath Antarctic ice shelves. Researchers will use autonomous sensors to monitor the ice and the ocean beneath the ice shelf in the critical area of the grounding line. They will also use airborne radar flights to study ice flow, seismic surveys to study the ocean floor under the ice shelf, and a remotely operated vehicle to examine the water beneath the shelf. Ocean moorings will monitor ocean conditions for a year or more. Ground-based, phase-sensitive radar will monitor the basal melt rate.

Field Season Overview

This season the team will flag or recover radar and GPS instrumentation that was installed in a 5 km area of the grounding zone of the eastern ice shelf of Thwaites Glacier during the 2019-2020 field season. Tasking specific to instrumentation installed in and around the two boreholes drilled in 2019-20 includes recovering data and resetting instruments installed at the downstream borehole site, and removing instruments and collecting fiber-optic Distributed Temperature System (DTS) measurements and raising the DTS cable at the upstream borehole. The NSF priority for science support tasking in West Antarctica in 2020-21 is to manage or recover scientific instruments to maintain their viability for future seasons. This scope of work will be accomplished by ASC contractor staff and one technician provided by UNAVCO and PASSCAL agencies utilizing existing fuel inventories established in West Antarctica during the 2019-20 field season.

Deploying Team Members

  • Irena Vankova
  • Irena Vankova
  • Irena Vankova
  • Benjamin Yeager
  • Benjamin Yeager
  • Benjamin Yeager