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An IceNode landed under ice during field testing


By the end of the century, the collapse of Antarctic ice shelves could trigger a meter or more of sea level rise, with profound effects for hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Antarctic ice shelves hold back more than 50 meters of sea-level rise equivalent in total. However, a lack of detailed understanding about how ice shelves will behave in a warming climate remains a primary obstacle to accurate sea level rise projections. The cavities below Antarctic ice shelves are notoriously difficult to access and operate in, and model-based hypotheses about the relationship between ocean warming and greater ice shelf melting are difficult to verify because of a lack of in-situ data to constrain model parameters and examine key assumptions.

Collapse of Glenzer Conger Ice Shelf in East Antarctica, Spring 2022
Collapse of Glenzer Conger Ice Shelf in East Antarctica, Spring 2022. Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory
graph of uncertainty in projected sea-level rise in the coming century
Uncertainty in projected sea-level rise in the coming century


What is needed is a scalable method for acquiring long-duration, concurrent, distributed in-situ melt rate measurements at the basal ice-ocean interface of Antarctic ice shelves. IceNode is novel underwater vehicle under development at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory designed to acquire such measurements.

diagram describing the ice node mission
Concept of Operations for IceNode. IceNode may also be deployed down a 25cm borehole

IceNodes are deployed as a swarm from a ship at the shelf edge (or a single borehole), and use variable buoyancy to ride melt-driven exchange currents to high science value landing areas far inside the cavity. IceNodes use advanced probabilistic AI guidance techniques and state of the art ocean current models to control their depth to exploit varying current layers such that they are swept below their targets. Once underneath their target, IceNodes release a ballast weight to gain high positive buoyancy and attach to the underside of the ice shelf, where they acquire in-situ measurements of basal melt rate directly at the ice-ocean interface for a year or more. Finally, IceNodes detach from their landing structure and use variable buoyancy to ride melt-driven exchange currents back to open water, where they surface and transmit their mission data home via Iridium link.

Stochastic Guidance of Buoyancy Controlled Vehicles under Ice Shelves Using Ocean Currents


IceNodes are designed to be relatively low-cost, expendable, and have simple logistics, enabling scientists to deploy scalable arrays that acquire simultaneous, distributed measurements of co-varying ice shelf melt and ocean conditions over large spatial areas, thereby providing an unprecedented view of ice shelf melt rate variability and its drivers.

The dataset enabled by IceNode hopes to generate the following impacts:
- Greatly improve understanding of ice shelf melt dynamics
- Ground-truth airborne and spaceborne remote sensing data
- Constrain numerical model parameters for predicting future ice shelf melt, collapse, and sea-level rise
- Contribute to NASA Earth Science Decadal Survey question "How much will sea level rise, globally and regionally, over the next decade and beyond, and what will be the role of ice sheets and ocean heat storage?"
- Advance JPL Quest 1: "Understand how Earth works as a system and how it is changing"
- Advance JPL Quest 7: "Use our unique expertise to benefit the nation and planet Earth"

Preliminary model-based studies show that even a relatively small array of IceNodes could provide extremely high science value return compared to current remote sensing limitations.

diagram reconstructing grounding zone melt rate
Relatively small IceNode arrays can advance state-of-the-art science


An IceNode research prototype has been developed at JPL and is currently undergoing field testing and performance characterization.

Going forward, the IceNode project seeks funding to develop a full fleet of IceNodes and conduct an Antarctic field campaign to elucidate the melt dynamics of Antarctic ice shelves and their effects on future sea-level rise.

IceNode deployed above a borehole on Lake Superior, Michigan
IceNode deployed above a borehole on Lake Superior, Michigan
Surface view of IceNode down the borehole
Surface view of IceNode down the borehole
looking up back up at the water
IceNode descended to 25m below the ice surface
Underwater view of IceNode landed on the underside of the ice
Underwater view of IceNode landed on the underside of the ice
picture of the IceNode lake deployment team
The IceNode Lake Superior MI Field Team. From left to right: Josh Moor (Sisu Field Solutions), Evan Clark (PI), Paul Glick, Xavier Zapien, Jacob Kosberg, Vickie Siegel (Sisu Field Solutions)



IceNode JPL Core Team (active): Evan Clark (PI) (397K), Paul Glick (347C), Patrick Phelps (357A), Ian Fenty (329C), Eric Rignot (3340), Federico Rossi (347N), Jacob Kosberg (3227), Justin Schachter (347A), Michael Schodlok (329C), Xavier Zapien (347A)
Moss Landing Marine Labs (Primary Instrument Package): Tim Stanton (Co-I)
MRV Systems Team (VBS subsystem design + underwater engineering expertise): Theresa Friske, Fritz Stahr, Ian Culhane, Christian Sarason, Ronnie Nigash, David Faust, Charlie Parker

Past Members:
JPL: Tyler Okamoto (347C), Christine Gebara (355L), Gauri Madhok (397K intern), Ara Kourchians (347A), Patrick McGarey (347F), Flora Mechentel (355L), Brendan Santos (397K intern), Dane Schoelen (347C), Ben Wolsieffer (397K intern), Kelly Nguyen (397K intern), Andrew Branch (397K), David Thorne (397K intern)
CSULA JUCI Senior Capstone Project Team: Arthur Balyan, Mitch Chau, Sean Heineman, Richard Lam, Miray Ouzounian, Ann Nye (advisor)


Office of the Chief Scientist and Chief Technologist (OCSCT) Topical Research and Technology Development Program (TRTD)