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Top 14 of 2014: That’s some thick ice

December 20, 2014
Ross Powell and fellow NIU geologist Scherer recovered sediment from a subglacial Antarctic lake bed.

Ross Powell and Reed Scherer in the Antarctic in 2013.

As 2014 draws to a close, NIU Today offers a look back at 14 of the top stories from the year.

No. 11

The coastline, or grounding zone, where the massive West Antarctic Ice Sheet atop land meets the Ross Sea, is considered an important piece of the puzzle for scientists working to predict the effect of climate change on rising seawaters, which threaten coastal cities worldwide.

Yet researchers have never laid eyes on it.

Never probed its dark shores. Never documented what life exists there under the ice. Never taken measurements to assess the coastline stability.

The problem: This grounding zone is buried by ice thicker than the Empire State Building is tall. Beyond its shoreline, the ice extends out over the sea in a floating slab known as the Ross Ice Shelf, which covers a region nearly the size of Spain.

Now, led by NIU geology professor Ross Powell, a team of American scientists is for the first time preparing to directly explore this murky region of the planet.