The Ross Ice Shelf is the largest existing ice shelf in Antarctica, and is currently stabilizing significant portions of the land ice atop the Antarctic continent. An ice shelf begins where the land ice goes afloat on the ocean, and as such, the Ross Ice Shelf interacts with the ocean and seafloor below, and the land ice behind. Currently, the Ross Ice Shelf slows down, or buttresses, the fast flowing ice streams of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), a marine-based ice sheet, which if melted, would raise global sea level by 3-4 meters. The Ross Ice Shelf average ice thickness is approximately 350 meters, and it covers approximately 487,000 square kilometers, an area slightly larger than the state of California. The Ross Ice Shelf has disappeared during prior interglacial periods, suggesting in the future it may disappear again. Understanding the dynamics, stability and future of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet therefore requires in-depth knowledge of the Ross Ice Shelf. The ROSETTA-ICE project brings together scientists from 4 US institutions and from the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences Limited, known as GNS Science, New Zealand. The ROSETTA-ICE data on the ice shelf, the water beneath the ice shelf, and the underlying rocks, will allow better predictions of how the Ross Ice Shelf will respond to changing climate, and therefore how the WAIS will behave in the future. The interdisciplinary ROSETTA-ICE team will train undergraduate and high school students in cutting edge research techniques, and will also work to educate the public via a series of vignettes integrating ROSETTA-ICE science with the scientific and human history of Antarctic research.
The ROSETTA-ICE survey will acquire gravity and magnetics data to determine the water depth beneath the ice shelf. Radar, LIDAR and imagery systems will be used to map the Ross Ice Shelf thickness and fine structure, crevasses, channels, debris, surface accumulation and distribution of marine ice. The high resolution aerogeophysical data over the Ross Ice Shelf region in Antarctica will be acquired using the IcePod sensor suite mounted externally on an LC-130 aircraft operating from McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Field activities will include ~36 flights on LC-130 aircraft over two field seasons in Antarctica. The IcePod instrument suite leverages the unique experience of the New York Air National Guard operating in Antarctica for NSF scientific research as well as infrastructure and logistics. The project will answer questions about the stability of the Ross Ice Shelf in future climate, and the geotectonic evolution of the Ross Ice Shelf Region, a key component of the West Antarctic Rift system. The comprehensive benchmark data sets acquired will enable broad, interdisciplinary analyses and modeling, which will also be performed as part of the project. ROSETTA-ICE will illuminate Ross ice sheet-ice shelf-ocean dynamics as the system nears a critical juncture but still is intact. Through interacting with an online data visualization tool, and comparing the ROSETTA-ICE data and results from earlier studies, we will engage students and young investigators, equipping them with new capabilities for the study of critical earth systems that influence global climate.