Unusual structure in Antarctica may affect melting ice

The boundary of two tectonic plates, passing under the Ross Ice Shelf, determines the melting processes of glaciers in the region.

The Ross Ice Shelf is one of the largest in Antarctica. The thickness of its ice in some places reaches 300 meters, so the study of the seabed below it by standard methods is impossible. However, thanks to the device called IcePod, it turned out to be done.

The IcePod, mounted on an airplane, measures not only the thickness and structure of the ice shelf, but also collects magnetic and gravitational signals from the bottom rocks. Thanks to this device, under the Ross Glacier, scientists have discovered a solid elevation difference on the border of two tectonic plates. East of this boundary is significantly higher than in the west.

IcePod / NSF / Mike Lucibella.
This boundary has a significant impact on the melting edge of the glacier. Cold winter winds draw warm streams from the deep ocean to the so-called Ross wormwood – a zone of open and abnormally warm water. These streams significantly accelerate melting at the eastern edge of the glacier, but due to the elevation difference they cannot reach the western one.

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