UTIG polar researchers Dillon Buhl, Anja Rutishauser and Natalie Wolfenbarger joined colleagues in West Antarctica to conduct vital surveys of one of the most unstable glaciers on Earth. The team are part of LIONESS, an international collaboration between The University of Texas at Austin, Montana State University and the Korea Polar Research Institute (KOPRI), which aims to resolve unanswered questions about the sprawling Thwaites Glacier system.
After being diverted to rescue a nearby fishing vessel, the Korean ice breaker R/V Araon finally delivered our polar researchers to Thwaites Glacier. With available time already running short, the team watched with dismay as a vast weather system rolled in, grounding the helicopters which carried their scientific instruments.
After eight days of continuous snow, the clouds lifted and hope returned to the camp. Anja Rutishauser delivers final entry in her four part field journal from Thwaites Glacier.
The storm finally broke. With just days of our operational window remaining, we scrambled to get as much science done as possible.
Despite so many setbacks, when the time came, we pulled together and in just a few short days, succeeded in collecting the aerogeophysical data we’d come so far for. This included over 2,000 km (1,242 miles) of high quality radar imaging and laser altimetry, and magnetic data covering a large chunk of the glacier and its surroundings.
Now sailing back to New Zealand I have mixed feelings. I’m happy to finally be heading home. And the data we got will be crucial to figuring out how long before the glacier collapses. But the trip has been an incredible, unforgettable experience.
Natalie described it best: “It’s a bittersweet ending. The adventure is coming to an end, but we were successful and we’re all safely back on the boat.”