Tag Archives: West Antarctica ice sheet

Greenhouse in Antarctica survives winter for 1st time

A greenhouse in Antarctica that is partly maintained remotely from Germany has survived through the polar winter for the first time.

Regularly withstanding temperatures below minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 degrees Celsius), the greenhouse provided herbs, lettuce and other vegetables to 10 people who were riding out the winter in the remote station, called the Alfred Wegener Institute’s Neumayer Station III. It’s the first time the greenhouse operated through the winter. “After more than half a year of operation in Antarctica, the self-sufficient greenhouse concept appears to be effective for climatically demanding regions on Earth, as well as for future manned missions to the moon and Mars,” DLR officials said in the statement.

“The harvests are now so plentiful that some of it does not always make it straight to the table, and we now have the luxury of spreading out our consumption of some refrigerated lettuce and herbs over several days,” Paul Zabel, a DLR researcher who works with EDEN ISS, said in the statement. “The overwintering team members are always looking forward to their next fresh meal.”

From a space exploration perspective, the most interesting aspect of this story is that, when the weather was too hostile for its Antarctic maintainer to reach it, the greenhouse was then maintained remotely from Germany, for up to three consecutive days. Clearly hands-on maintenance is necessary for such a facility, but to design it so that remote maintenance can occur is a technical capability that space-colonists are definitely going to want to have.

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Using computer models and data collected in the past decade, some climate scientists now believe that a major Antarctica ice sheet is in the process of collapsing.

Using computer models and data collected in the past decade, some climate scientists now believe that a major Antarctica ice sheet is in the process of collapsing.

One team combined data on the recent retreat of the 182,000-square-kilometer Thwaites Glacier with a model of the glacier’s dynamics to forecast its future. In a paper published online today in Science, they report that in as few as 2 centuries Thwaites Glacier’s outermost edge will recede past an underwater ridge now stalling its retreat. Their modeling suggests that the glacier will then cascade into rapid collapse. The second team, writing in Geophysical Research Letters (GRL), describes recent radar mapping of West Antarctica’s glaciers and confirms that the 600-meter-deep ridge is the final obstacle before the bedrock underlying the glacier dips into a deep basin.

Because inland basins connect Thwaites Glacier to other major glaciers in the region, both research teams say its collapse would flood West Antarctica with seawater, prompting a near-complete loss of ice in the area. “The next stable state for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet might be no ice sheet at all,” says the Science paper’s lead author, glaciologist Ian Joughin of the University of Washington (UW), Seattle.

This result really falls under the category of the uncertainty of science. Though the data suggests a glacier that is part of the much larger West Antarctica ice sheet is melting, the prediction that the ice sheet itself will collapse sometime in the next two centuries is solely based on computer models that have all too often turned turned out to be wrong.

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