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Just how much ice is left underneath Alaska’s glaciers? Scientists dig to find out

BY   October 2, 2014 at 12:15 PM EDT

Scientists are trekking across Ruth Glacier in Denali National Park in Alaska, dragging a sled with ground-penetrating radar equipment over the ice. Their mission: reconstruct this glacier’s history and find out how much time these icy giants have left.

“So what we’re interested in doing is looking at the relationship between temperature and precipitation rate and the response of glaciers in these areas to those changes,” says Karl Kreutz, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Maine.

Alaska’s glaciers are rapidly melting away, like the land ice in Greenland and Antarctica. Scientists believe climate change is the culprit. Losing Denali’s glaciers is not just a loss for skiers and tourists. Alaska’s disappearing glaciers are adding to sea level rise around the world.

Screen grab from "Science Nation"

Scientists dig deep into the glacier to analyze its past. Screen grab from “Science Nation”

But unlike Greenland, Alaska’s glaciers are poorly studied, says Seth Campbell with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Drilling into the ice sheet gives scientists millennia of data about the glacier’s history. But the ice cores don’t tell scientists just how deep the ice is. Special radar equipment can tell scientists just how much ice is left.

Science correspondent Miles O’Brien has more on this story for the National Science Foundation series “Science Nation.”*

*For the record, the National Science Foundation is also an underwriter of the NewsHour.