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NASA Researcher Visits One Tough P.I.G.
Dr. Robert Bindschadler on the P.I.G. Ice Shelf > Watch a video about Dr. Bindschadler and the P.I.G. Ice Shelf
Antarctica footage provided by Polar-Palooza/Passport to Knowledge
Robert Bindschadler is chief scientist of NASA's Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory, a senior fellow of the Goddard Space Flight Center, a fellow of the American Geophysical Union and a past president of the International Glaciological Society. This past January, Bindschadler led an expedition to a previously untouched part of Antarctica that may be one of the best places to gauge how global warming is affecting the continent.

Pine Island Glacier Ice Shelf (PIG for short) is believed to be among the most vulnerable spots to melting on Earth, but it’s also among the most remote. While satellite observations provide a wide-angle view of the action on the glacier, boots on the ground with high tech drills and sensors are needed to provide the close-up shots to fill in the blanks.

As you can see from this short video and the entries to a Discovery Channel blog that Bindschadler kept while in Antarctica, the logistics of setting foot on the ice shelf turned out to be a real challenge and the first trip had both its ups and its downs. Nonetheless, Bindschadler welcomes the challenge and has high hopes for what his continued research on Pine Island might uncover.

Blog Excerpt 1: "Success!!"
PIG Shelf, Antarctica, Jan. 3, 2008, 75d06mS/100d06mW --
On the ice shelf at last!! We made it to a place no one has ever been, a place many colleagues thought we could never land, a place where we believe drastic changes in the ice sheet are being triggered, a place I have been dreaming of getting to through more than two years of planning. I thought of all these things as I jumped out of the plane onto the snow surface.

Blog Excerpt 2: "Oh No!"
PIG Shelf, Antarctica, Jan. 3, 2008, 75d06mS/100d06mW --
The more I pushed to understand what the logistic limitations were, the narrower they became. Before long, I heard from McMurdo the unequivocal decision "you will not land on the ice shelf again this season."

I met with the rest of our field team, presented the situation and we discussed what could be salvaged. So much required us to be on the ice shelf. The very measurement of water depth was most critical and didn't require much equipment, but flying regulations that prohibit people, explosives and detonators from ever flying together would require three landings.

Blog Excerpt 3: "Making the Best of Things"
McMurdo Station, Antarctica, Jan. 11, 2008 --
And so it goes. Plans change and change again. Field work is like that. You come with intended objectives, but weather, conditions, or any of a myriad of events force adjustment to the original plan. It takes so much effort, time and money to get here that you try to maximize what you can accomplish. Good Antarctic field scientists never accept just giving up and going home without squeezing every possible productive use of the equipment and time we have here.

Blog Excerpt 4: "A Field Season's Final Thoughts"
On the Herc flying back to McMurdo Station, Jan. 17, 2008 --
Nature speaks more loudly in Antarctica than anywhere else I’ve experienced. Her storms force humans to submit to her weather. You come to be grateful for the windows of milder weather when you can do your research because when she roars, you must wait. She rules -- and we are, and will probably always be, only visitors.

I work in a relatively small field of research. There are maybe two dozen people in the U.S. and maybe three times that worldwide who do the type of work that I do and half of them don’t include field work in their research portfolio. It is rewarding research for many reasons. We few get to work in an exceptional environment and still discover surprising things about a part of our planet. I can think of nothing so exciting about science as making new discoveries. The new urgency of my research brought by the rapid acceleration of changes we observe adds pressure, but also an increased sense of importance to what I’m doing in Antarctica.

Robert Bindschadler’s Antarctic research is funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation.

Related links:

> NASA info on Pine Island Glacier Ice Shelf
> Dr. Bindschadler’s blog on Discovery Earth Live