Bob Thomas, glaciologist; 1966-1967

Glaciology was in its infancy when I was at Halley Bay, and my driving principle was to measure everything I could about ice. So, with help and surveying advice from Alan Johnston, I measured the hell out of the Brunt Ice Shelf and its adjoining bit of ice sheet. Afterwards, back in Cambridge, I was able to use all these measurements to show how important the Gin Bottle was to the existence of the Brunt Ice Shelf, and this discovery has since been the foundation stone upon which I have built an hypothesis describing the stability of the Antarctic ice sheet under attack from climate warming. In this scenario, the ice shelves are the dams that keep much of the ice sheet from returning to mother ocean; weakening of the ice shelves opens a door to catastrophic ice-sheet drainage into the oceans and resulting sea-level rise. These ideas, however, have suffered heavy bombardment from the heavy theorists since their inception in the 1970s. But recent thinning of glaciers feeding the dwindling ice shelves of Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers may indicate that maybe the theorists got it wrong, just as they did when they proved that continents couldn't drift.

As perhaps is apparent, my attraction for ice has kept me involved with polar regions ever since my Halley Bay years (and their precursors at Argentine Islands in 1960-61), and I worked extensively over the entire Ross Ice Shelf with US support during the 1970s, followed by work with NASA during the 1980s using remotely-sensed data from bith polar regions. Then, after a decade of desk work, the need to get back to the ice took me to Greenland during the 1990s on a NASA project that I managed to initiate, that included a traverse of the entire ice sheet along the 2000-m contour. And we did lots of remote-sensing stuff, including aircraft measurements of ice-surface elevations to an accuracy of 10 cm, so that resurveys after 5 years revealed changes in ice-sheet thickness. And the answer is that the ice sheet is thinning - quite probably thanks to George Wee Bush and his energy consuming friends. Next, comes a satellite laser altimeter that will make the same kind of measurements everywhere: your back yard plus the Halley Bay plus most of the Antarctic ice sheet.....always assuming the politicians don't pull the plug the enterprise in case it brings home the wrong kind of bacon.

11 January 2002

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