fbpx Sea Ice Science Today | LEARNZ

Sea Ice Science Today

100 years of Antarctic Science
Climate Change

During your virtual field trip to Antarctica you will visit a modern science field camp and meet some scientists who are studying sea ice. 

Scientists are trying to find out why sea ice is increasing in some parts of Antarctica even though the ocean is becoming slightly warmer.

Part of the answer to this puzzle lies in the effect that the warming ocean is also having on Antarctic ice shelves – the floating extension of the land-based ice sheet.

Melting of ice shelves by the ocean creates water that becomes supercooled as it rises towards the surface. This very cold water contributes to thickening of sea ice, especially near the coast.

Why is the area of sea ice around Antarctica increasing? 

While the total area of sea ice is increasing, it varies from region to region. This is not a surprise as the ocean around Antarctica also varies.

Changing winds are thought to be influencing ice growth in some regions. 

The K131 science team are interested in how ice shelves and the ocean affect each other. Ice shelves are made of fresh water so when they melt they release very cold, fresh water into the sea.

This water is so cold it can be below its freezing point, yet it still is a liquid – this water is called supercool. This supercool water tries to form new ice. As this water refreezes it forms ice crystals.

It is possible that the current pattern of increasing growth of sea ice over winter in Antarctica is partly caused by the melting of the ice shelves. One form of ice is being replaced by another. 

What the scientists will be working on

NIWA scientists have been working in Antarctica to try and understand the processes controlling the growth of sea ice in parts of Antarctica. During the field trip you will meet Dr Natalie Robinson who will be looking at how ice crystals grow and group together in supercooled water. Natalie will then test how the ice crystals below sea ice affect the movement of water and the way heat is transferred in the upper ocean.

The creation of supercooled water and more sea ice.

Measurements and observations will be collected on;

  • Supercooled water
  • Temperature
  • Salinity
  • Turbulence (movement of water)
  • Ice crystal formation.

By collecting this data, scientists hope to find more accurate information about changes in the ice shelf and sea ice. This research will provide new information that can be fed into climate models making these models more accurate. By improving climate models scientists will better be able to show what the future climate will be like. 

Ready for a quiz?

Sea Ice Science Today quiz


Audio Māori keywords: 

Take a look at the 2015 LEARNZ Antarctic field trip to find out more about the work the K131 science team is doing.

The K131 science team will be camped out on the sea ice in movable containers like the ones you can see in this photo. How do you think these buildings are moved from place to place? Image: LEARNZ.

To be able to study the sea scientists first need to drill through sea ice. Image: LEARNZ.

The K131 team will use a variety of technology to help collect information about sea water. What similarities and differences are there between the equipment used on Scott's expeditions and the equipment used by the K131 team. Image: Brett Grant.

Despite technology working in Antarctica can still be very challenging. Image: Brett Grant.

Shelley talks with NIWA scientist Craig Stevens during the 2015 LEARNZ Antarctic field trip. This year you will be able to catch up with members of the K131 team at their field camp. Image: LEARNZ.

100 years of Antarctic Science
Climate Change