The Hidden World Beneath the Antarctic Ice Sheet | John Priscu | TEDxBozeman

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Oh it has been a cold honor I guess with a stream and a valley named after me but I have been working in Antarctica for about 30 years and I started when I started out as a junior faculty member at MSU and I still remember my first season in Antarctica and I had read all the early explorers accounts and it was all doom and gloom I don't know if you've read any of them there's a book out back about first exploration of the South Pole but it's all doom and gloom and no life they were they were portraying Antarctica as a as a dead continent and as you'll see from this this map of Antarctica back here this is the way Antarctica is viewed today in any textbook it's not part of the blue planet it's white and that bothered me I come from a biological background and I couldn't see this much real estate on our planet being dead okay and Antarctic is twice the size of Australia it's our fifth largest continent it's the highest driest coldest continent we have on earth okay the South Poles at 10,000 feet East Antarctica which is this part over here it's about 13,000 feet and elevation so it's quite high it's cold the average temperature is minus 50 okay I mean so beause I feel right at home in Bozeman it's minus 50 the coldest temperature recorded to minus 130 Fahrenheit okay that's pretty tough alright so now you can see why the early explorers who are many lost their lives thought this okay so one other thing is Antarctica is covered with ice 99% of its ice averages almost two miles thick 70% of our planet's fresh water is there okay and if it melts and it is melting you'd be in denial if you didn't think so that's another talk okay it is melting and when it melts sea level is going to rise about 200 feet and we will have to have scuba gear to tour the Statue of Liberty all right well in the year 2000 I was an international meeting in Tokyo and we put together sort of a group of specialists to look for life and understand if there was liquid water on this continent once and for all it took a long time to get to that point but we got funding to put this group together and I was lucky enough to chair it so in this picture here you'll see this is an I published this in 2009 after meeting in st. Petersburg Russia we sat down with an illustrator and came out with this current view of Antarctica where we have lakes all the little blue dots there's over 200 lakes we believe there that Lake Vostok is 3,000 feet deep and the size of Lake Ontario and it's under two and a half miles of ice okay see this is one of the fifth largest lakes on our planet we've never been there there's also river systems that we believe rival the Amazon that space there that blue space you can see is about the size of the Amazon River Basin and some of these rivers systems are the size of the Amazon we haven't been there yet okay I want to tell you a story of the first exploration of one of these systems about two months ago done by a team as chief scientist on and I think we've changed the view of Antarctica so I'm going to take you to this part of the continent and talk about a lake called Lake Whillans you'll see the little blue dots there and some rivers there okay we only for over ten years we only guess that they were there okay and we will take you to that spot well how do we know that that or why do we think there lakes there well we joined up with NASA and using satellite images we could see flat spots all over the continent and this is where the ice sheet floats over these lakes okay so that was our first impression of lakes so we could count them up and we know there's some huge lakes out there now I'm going to show you a little clip that that also transforms the way we see this nr2 continent it's not just this big stable block of ice let's see if we get our little movie okay so this going to show you a cutaway and we also using satellites can see the surface of the ice going up and down by measuring the satellite the alt using satellite altimetry over time and we can define rivers flowing underneath the ice sheet okay so we have all this indirect evidence and we had these beautiful river systems like we'd see coming out of the Rocky Mountains we can we can get an idea depth so we have all this background data but we haven't been there yet so I want to take you and tell you how we did it this just a few months ago okay so we went out to this Lake Whillans area and the first thing in an hour because well you got to get a lot of stuff out in the middle of nowhere you think going out camping is hard we can't big time okay this is the biggest camping expedition you've ever wanted to do well we flew everything down and took icebreakers most of our stuff to McMurdo Station down here okay where we could get in with icebreakers and big aircraft then we had to get all of our stuff out a hundred miles to the site over this lake so we bought some tractors all right we bought a whole bunch of caterpillar tractors actually 14 of them and we put everything on sleds and this picture here you can see a tractor there's another tractor there's another one there's one pull and we put a traverse together that was a mile long and took two weeks to get out to our field site so we started here and this is the route with its camp temps and then it got up over here to our will and subside here's the South Pole so we're getting close to the South Pole what's interesting is our road out there followed Robert Falcons trail to the South Pole is the one he actually died on the way back so little history in this so we followed his track for a while okay so anyway we get out there and we're on site I didn't go on the tractor my students did and I'm not going to sit on a tractor for two and a half three weeks so we went in with aircraft and we took the first plane in and we're talking about now 10 years of planning in this first aircraft went in and landed in the ski way and it got stuck okay that wasn't fun and it took a lot of effort to get it off you can see it plowing snow it got stuck because the ice and snow actually snow in this case was warmer than it typically been the continent is warming so what we did just like when you come out in the morning in Montana after dig your car out we had to get out there and dig out the skis on this airplane and the pilots in their reverse and thrust going back and forth trying to Jimmy it out it was unstuck and then put these Rockets on the side or four on each side and after five attempts it got off and had a stop at the South Pole for gas to make it back to MacMurray's but we got in okay which was okay just part of doing research the Antarctic so we built a small city out in the middle of the Antarctic Ice Sheet and this is our field camp I just want to point out a few things here's our ski way over here for the aircraft our main camp and here's our little living quarters these are all tents we all had our own little customized tent to sleep in we spent three three weeks working around the clock because we had to melt a hole we have the science budget was ten and a half million for this project our drill was three million we have a special drill that drilled down very quickly to the bottom and we work around the clock here's our drillers on the left and scientists on the right actually collecting samples from the site so we worked around it around the clock nobody slept was very exciting and you probably the previous slide you probably would have noticed we were wearing Tyvek suits because part of our protocols for sampling these lakes part of our international plan was to do it environmentally in a clean sense okay so we had a show stewardship so we dressed and it went in between our little fields tents dressed up like this this is walking between sites in a storm and we did this to keep the environment clean and to keep our samples clean because great claims need a great evidence behind it all right so this is how we worked out there for three weeks and I did personally myself I did two 23 hour shifts almost back-to-back it was a lot of work for an old guy like me anyway so this is a we did and I'm just showing you a picture going down the borehole we're almost a half a mile deep here and a little these little thing whiskers here or help it is tell how white the borehole is so we know our tools can go down and there's the bottom and there was a light there okay it took a long time was 30 years of ideas thinking this isn't a dead place okay over 12 years of deliberations suggesting there lakes there and rivers and there it is there's the bottom okay this is 28 you arey 2012 not very long ago okay and this is the first picture about two days later of organisms under there okay there's life under there and some of my students are out here and they took these pictures had a lot of grad students from MSU seven MSU colleagues were down on the ice with me so now there's life down this is the first glimpse of life and we the DNA samples are coming back there should be arriving this week and we'll be able to sequence and tell you who they are alright so that made we've got a lot of publicity maybe not foes men but internationally this is these are two New York Times articles in a short period between 14 January and 6 February we transform the way Antarctica is viewed okay so 30 years ago we had a vision that it can't be dead and now we showed in this short time so now it's if we and our continent shouldn't be shown as this white block at the bottom of our earth of our planet it's part of the blue planet itself there's living ecosystems that play a role in climate change etc okay well where do we go from here okay I'm very involved with NASA and we have now defined us in studies there's six moons out here this is earth in the middle and they have oceans under ice as well okay as a matter of fact there's ten times more water in the outer solar system than there is on earth okay that's habitable space those oceans have been around since the beginning of our solar system there should be life there there must be it would be in denial to think of there was it okay and we started publishing now and I'm focusing on Europa putting a mission together right now we're at about a billion dollars it's going to take to put a lander and drill through that ocean to drill through the ice into the ocean and find out where we are so we only not not only have to think out of the box but we have to get out of the box to make discovery thank you you
Channel: TEDx Talks
Views: 1,077,333
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Keywords: tedx, ted, tedx talks, ted talk, ted x, tedx talk, ted talks
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Length: 11min 18sec (678 seconds)
Published: Mon May 27 2013
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