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Exploring Antarctica's Threatened Glaciers (with a Robot)

Journey to Antarctica in a new digital series from NOVA and PBS Digital Studios, and discover what it takes to do science in Earth’s remotest natural laboratory.

Premiered: Runtime: 10:39Topic: Planet EarthPlanet EarthNova
Premiered on PBS

Icefin is designed to test technologies for exploring Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. But before its successors go into space, Icefin has a serious job on Earth. By collecting data in Antarctica’s subglacial environment, researchers like Georgia Tech astrobiologist Britney Schmidt hope they can better understand how climate change is affecting Antarctica’s vulnerable glaciers. Caitlin and Arlo meet with Britney and her team of young scientists and engineers at the 8-mile-long Erebus Glacier Tongue to discover how this robot might just help save the world before its “grandkids” leave our planet. Then, Britney, her team, and Icefin head to the Florida-sized Thwaites glacier on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Thwaites is one of the most remote places on Earth, but it’s the front line of climate change (in fact, it’s nicknamed “the Doomsday Glacier”). The thinning and melting of Thwaites’ ice contributes to about 4 percent of global sea level rise, and scientists fear the glacier may collapse within a few decades or centuries. Now, with the help of Icefin, scientists hope to better understand why Thwaites is melting so quickly today—and whether the glacier is at risk of accelerated melting in the near future.

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National corporate funding for NOVA is provided by Draper. Major funding for NOVA is provided by the David H. Koch Fund for Science, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and PBS viewers. Additional funding is provided by the NOVA Science Trust.

Major funding for this project is provided by the National Science Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Heising-Simons Foundation, The Kendeda Fund, the George D. Smith Fund, and the Richard Saltonstall Charitable Foundation.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1713552. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Footage of seals was obtained under the authority of NMFS MMPA permit nos.1032-1917, 17236, & 21158