The Antarctic ice cap

Over the past decade, it has been observed that the glaciers of the Antarctic Peninsula are moving more quickly, and several ice shelves have broken up. Ice shelves act rather like dams, holding back the glaciers farther inland, and scientists suspect that if the shelves disappear, large sectors of the inland ice sheet could be affected.

Researcher Tore Hattermann taking measures at the Fimbul Ice Shelf

In 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute led expeditions to Antarctica to study the mass balance of Fimbulisen – the Fimbul Ice Shelf – as well as melting and circulation into the ocean from the underside of the floating ice. To measure how fast the ice moves in Jutulstraumen, stakes were planted in the snow and their positions were tracked using GPS. By repeating the measurements after a certain time lapse, it is possible determine to how far the stake has moved, and thus calculate its speed. The first expedition placed the stakes, conductivity metres and thermometers, and one year later, the second expedition collected data from the equipment and changed the batteries Photo: Elvar Ørn Kjartansson

Antarctica receives so little precipitation it is to all intents and purposes a desert. Up on the ice plateau it snows no more than a few centimetres per year.

But the little snow that falls is compressed into ice that moves slowly toward the coasts. When it reaches the sea, the ice sheet floats on the water and forms an ice shelf, like Fimbulisen north of the Norwegian research station Troll. Ice shelves calve at the seaward edge, and large or small icebergs break off.