Go to contents

S. Korea joins research project on Thwaites Glacier

Posted January. 18, 2019 07:30,   

Updated January. 18, 2019 07:30


The increasingly erratic climate patterns are accelerating the melting of glaciers in the South Pole. A joint research team from University of California, Irvine and Utrecht University found that as much as 252 billion tons of continental icebergs in the Antarctic are vanishing every year. The pace has made a six-fold increase over the past four decades (from 40 billion tons per year). The findings were published on Monday in an international science journal called Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).

Unlike the North Pole where all the ice is floating on the seas, the melting of Antarctic icebergs directly translates into a rise of sea levels in the South Pole. Experts are concerned that the sea levels could rise by more than five meters in the next couple of decades, which is fast becoming reality. Alarmed, scientists across the globe are scrambling to the South Pole for research.

The International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC), led by the United States, the United Kingdom, and South Korea, is launching a probe into the Thwaites Glacier in west Antarctica, which is disappearing most quickly among the glaciers in the South Pole. The goal of the investigation is to identify the remaining time for the glacier to melt away. The ITGC project has been chosen by the international scientific journal Nature as one of the research projects worth the most attention in the year of 2019.

The American and British research teams launched explorations in October last year, and South Korea is joining forces with them late this year. The Korea Polar Research Institute (KOPRI) is planning to make a concentrated observation into the borders between the Thwaites Glacier and the seas by mobilizing the Korean RV Araon and unmanned submarines. The researchers will identify topographical and geological traits under the glacier through air radar monitoring and analyze the movement of the glacier and the adjacent waters by installing seismometers and GPS sensors onto the ice.

The area near the Thwaites Glacier is susceptible to climate change as it is lower than the sea level by more than 500 meters, making itself exposed to warmer waters. The land is covered by glacier 2,500 meters thick, and the bottom of it adjoining the sea level, causing the ocean water to penetrate deep into the depth of the glacier. Consequently, the glacier takes the form of an ice shelf floating on the waters with its edge connected to the continent ice. If the endangered glaciers in west Antarctica vanish in their entirety within this century, the sea levels would rise by 57.2 meters globally. This will leave Seoul, a city at the altitude of 38 meters, fully inundated.

With the research value of South Pole growing more than ever, an increasing number of countries are introducing large-sized icebreaking research vessels. China will introduce a polar icebreaker with 13,990 tons of displacement capacity called Xue Long 2 that can penetrate 1.5 meter-thick ice, and Australia will have a 25,500 ton-icebreaker named Nuyina that can break the ice 1.65 meters deep. The UK and Germany will have a new fleet of polar icebreakers go into commission in 2020 and 2023, respectively. South Korea pushed for a project to build the successor of the Aaron, an icebreaker that can break into the ice one meter deep with 7,500 tons of displacement capacity, but failed a preliminary feasibility study in May last year.