A partnership between the University of Washington and Paul G. Allen Philanthropies will use a network of undersea robots to observe conditions beneath a floating Antarctic ice shelf.
If that sounds a bit academic, let me put it another way: The fate of the world may rest on whether or not a gargantuan slab of ice collapses into the ocean. Some smart people from UW are using robots to determine how screwed we are.
Ice shelves like the West Antarctic Ice Sheet play a critical role in maintaining ocean levels, acting as retaining walls to keep inland glaciers from escaping into the sea.
But ocean waters are warming, eating away at the ice shelves and leaving massive undersea caverns. If the ice above the caverns collapses, the water levels could rise catastrophically, precipitating massive flooding in coastal areas.