A One-Day Tour of the Antarctic Cryosphere


From: Michael Studinger, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, co-principal investigator on gravimeter team


PUNTA ARENAS, Chile – The weather forecast for our survey area yesterday, Nov. 16, over the Larsen C Ice Shelf predicted excellent conditions. Given the difficult weather situation over the past couple of days, this was a welcome change. After carefully studying satellite images and computer models and talking to the meteorologist at the Punta Arenas airport, we decided to fly NASA’s DC-8 over Antarctica again.


The flight took us through an almost complete tour of the Antarctic cryosphere. We followed the flow of ice from the interior all the way to the ocean where it ends up as icebergs and eventually melts. We began our tour by flying over small ice caps on the Antarctic Peninsula. The snow and ice that forms these ice caps eventually flows downhill through steep valleys that are occupied by glaciers or ice streams.



Glaciers flowing down steep valleys transport ice from the interior of Antarctica to the Larsen Ice Shelf near the coast.



At one point during the flight I took the seat in the cockpit behind our two pilots to get a better view of the spectacular scenery. We descended into a steep valley that was filled with ice flowing into the remnants of the former Larsen B Ice Shelf that broke apart a few years ago. The ice that’s flowing down through the valleys is pushing the ice in the ice shelves away and eventually huge chunks of ice break off and form icebergs. On the ice shelf the ice goes afloat and forms huge flat surfaces that seem to be endless. Beneath the ice is ocean water. We are here to study how the warm ocean water melts the ice shelf from beneath.




Small caps of stagnant ice cover the summits while the ice in the valley is moving relatively fast towards the coast.



Our next survey line takes us all the way to the edge of the ice shelf where we can see several of these gigantic icebergs floating in the far distance surrounded by sea ice and pockets of open water. After crisscrossing the part of the Larsen C Ice Shelf that is still intact, we head back up to the crest of the Antarctic Peninsula and repeat our mini-tour through the Antarctic cryosphere on a different survey line.


Every time I look out of the window and soak in the spectacular scenery I see an incredibly beautiful but fragile landscape.


We fly over the flat and mostly featureless Larsen Ice Shelf. You can see the steep mountains and glaciers in the background.



We complete our tour of the Antarctic cryosphere at the edge of the Larsen C Ice Shelf where we reach open water and sea ice.



All photos: Michael Studinger


16 thoughts on “A One-Day Tour of the Antarctic Cryosphere”

  1. Amazing photos. Thanks so much for sharing. It would be great if you could also provide higher resolution photos for downloading for desktops for example. Either way, really incredible to be able to see somewhere that few people will ever view.

  2. Beautiful.Just a part of the glorious natuer of our earth.Let’s respect and keep it alive.Thanks 🙂

  3. Spectacular photos and Thanks for sharing. Our world is so majestic yet so very fragil and your photos sure prove that. Quite difficult to find the words to describe how beautiful our world really is. Thanks again as I hope you share more with us all.

  4. Amazing scenery. I can only imagine how long it took you to choose the few photos you decided to share. How did this aerial tour help in understanding the impact of the ocean and its temp on the ice melting? Also, in your first photo, do you know the approx. elevation of the mountains in view? They look small, but that could just be perspective. Thanks again!

  5. FYI … The mountains in the 1st picture rise from sea level to about 2000 feet. On the lower left of the image are ice crumbles that are floating in ocean water where the Larsen B Ice Shelf once was.
    We collected gravity, radar and laser data over the Larsen C Ice Shelf. The gravity data allows us to estimate how deep the water is beneath the floating ice. This information will be used as input for computer models that can predict how the ice shelf will respond to the circulation of warm ocean water beneath it.

  6. Awesome Pictures. It must be a real fantastic experience to fly over such topography ! Beautiful earth – lets strive to protect natures beauty.

  7. The most beautiful landscape on Earth. Wish to be there. Great photos: thanks for sharing. Wish to see more!

Comments are closed.