Measuring beneath the Pine Island Ice Shelf

  • Released Thursday, September 19, 2013
  • Updated Thursday, January 8, 2015 at 2:01PM
  • ID: 4103

On the margins of Antarctica, an ice shelve acts as a dam slowing the movement of outlet glaciers flowing toward the sea. However, the ice shelves are exposed to the underlying ocean and may weaken as a result of warm ocean currents. Scientists recently completed an expedition to the ice shelf buffering the Pine Island glacier, a major outlet of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet that has rapidly thinned and accelerated in recent decades. Drilling a shaft through the ice shelf, they submerged instruments beneath the ice to measure ocean velocity, temperature, and salinity. Their observations revealed a 600-m-wide 80-m-deep channel cut into the underside of the ice-shelf that incurs melting beneath the ice shelf of 0.06 m per day. See the paper here for details.

This animation shows the ocean currents colored by their velocity circulating around and under the Pine Island ice shelf. Orange and yellow indicate faster currents while green and blue depict slower. A small red marker indicates the location of the drill site. In this animation, the Pine Island ice shelf is temporarily sliced away to reveal the ocean flows under the ice and subsequently restored up to the location of the drill site. A shaft penetrates through the ice sheet and the instrument is lowered through the shaft into the water that flows beneath the ice shelf.

In this animation, the topography and ice shelf thickness is exaggerated by 15 times.

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A still image showing the ocean current flows colored by velocity indicating the circulation in the Pine Island Bay.

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A still image showing half of the Pine Island ice shelf removed to reveal the ocean flows moving under the ice shelf. A red marker indicates the drilling location.

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A still image showing half of the Pine Island ice shelf removed and a shaft drilled through the ice shelf. The ocean flows shown moving under the ice shelf are colored by velocity.

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Colorbar used for the ocean flows.


Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio


This visualization is based on the following papers:
  • T. P. Stanton1, W. J. Shaw1, M. Truffer2, H. F. J. Corr3, L. E. Peters4, K. L. Riverman4, R. Bindschadler5, D. M. Holland6, S. Anandakrishnan4, "Channelized Ice Melting in the Ocean Boundary Layer Beneath Pine Island Glacier, Antarctica", Science 13 September 2013: Vol. 341 no. 6151 pp. 1236-1239.


This visualization is related to the following missions:

Datasets used in this visualization

ECCO3 High Resolution Ocean and Sea Ice Model
Model | NASA/JPL
Landsat-7 LIMA (A.K.A. Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica) (Collected with the ETM+ sensor)
Mosaic | NASA/GSFC, British Antarctic Survey, USGS EROS Data Center

Mosaicing to avoid clouds produced a high quality, nearly cloud-free benchmark data set of Antarctica for the International Polar Year from images collected primarily during 1999-2003.

Dataset can be found at:

See more visualizations using this data set

Note: While we identify the data sets used in these visualizations, we do not store any further details nor the data sets themselves on our site.

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