In November, scientists from New Zealand used a hot water drill to go deep into Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf. The shelf, which can be up to 10,000 feet thick, is the largest of several that hold back West Antarctica's massive amounts of ice. If these were to collapse, global sea level would rise by ten feet.
Drilling a hole and lowering a camera and thermometer inside is a way for researchers to understand the history of the shelf, and what is happening to it now. In measuring the temperature and currents below the shelf, they expected to find that the ice was melting.
Instead, the water appeared to be crystalizing and freezing. In the video from National Geographic below, you can see the white dots of ice crystals as the camera is lowered towards the dark sea below. If the shelf was melting, the hole at that level would have smooth sides.
“It blew our minds,”, the glaciologist from the University of Otago in New Zealand, who co-led the project, told National Geographic.
Scientists have left instruments deep in the hole to measure currents and temperatures below the shelf for the next few years. Though the freezing seems to be a promising sign for the shelf's stability, it doesn't tell the whole picture. Scientists also hope to learn whether the ice shelf has melted in the past due to other climate shifts.
Though results of this study were unexpected, that doesn't change the larger trend of accelerated warming and icecap melting. In fact, NASA we are losing ice in Antarctica at a faster rate every year. The reasons for these odd Ross results probably won't become clear until much more research is done. But for now, at the very least, it's a decent sign that catastrophic melting of the Ross Ice Shelf won't occur in the near future.