Scientists successfully complete Antarctic drilling project

Feb 21, 2012
Project leader Dr. rob Mulvaney measuring an ice core section.

A new ice core successfully drilled from the Antarctica Peninsula last month (January) may shed new light on how the vulnerable West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) has responded to climate change in the past.

A seven-person team — a collaboration between British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and Laboratoire de Glaciologie et Géophysique de l’Environnement (LGGE) in France — has drilled a 650 metre core from Fletcher Promontory. The core will show how this part of Antarctica, bordering the WAIS nick-named as Antarctica’s ‘weak underbelly’, responded in the past. If the bottom of the core is as old as the last interglacial (130,000 years ago), then by comparing results with previous ice cores the team will investigate how the WAIS responded in the last interglacial (warm period) to better understand what may happen in the future.

Dr. Robert Mulvaney from BAS who led the project says, “This kind of project can take years to carry out so we are delighted that we managed to reach the bedrock in less than two months. It’s also very exciting to have reached the bedrock on the exact day 100 years ago that Captain Robert Falcon Scott reached the South Pole (17th January).”

In temperatures as low as −23°C, the team spent 35 days drilling the core including 21 days when the team drilled 24 hrs a day on shifts. The cores which are bagged in 1-metre long sections are currently being stored at BAS’ Rothera Research Station where they will stay until they can be shipped back to the UK and France later in the year for analysis.

Ice cores are unique records, allowing scientists to investigate climate changes over hundreds of thousands of years. The Earth's oldest ice is found in East Antarctica. The three oldest existing ice cores were drilled at Dome C, Dome F and Vostok. The longest ice core — at 3,650 metres — comes from Vostok, but the oldest , drilled by the European Project for Ice Coring in (EPICA) team, contains a climate record stretching back 800,000 years. Analysis of the ice cores has revolutionized our understanding of how Antarctic climate has varied in the past. Information from ice cores is vital for testing and improving the computer models used to predict future climate.

Interglacials recur roughly every 100,000 years between ice ages. The present warm period began around 10,000 years ago and has been relatively stable.

Explore further: Huge waves measured for first time in Arctic Ocean

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mysteriously warm times in Antarctica

Nov 18, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new study of Antarctica's past climate reveals that temperatures during the warm periods between ice ages (interglacials) may have been higher than previously thought. The latest analysis ...

Ice cores yield rich history of climate change

Feb 02, 2011

On Friday, Jan. 28 in Antarctica, a research team investigating the last 100,000 years of Earth's climate history reached an important milestone completing the main ice core to a depth of 3,331 meters (10,928 ...

Recommended for you

Huge waves measured for first time in Arctic Ocean

7 hours ago

As the climate warms and sea ice retreats, the North is changing. An ice-covered expanse now has a season of increasingly open water which is predicted to extend across the whole Arctic Ocean before the middle ...

New research reveals Pele is powerful, even in the sky

12 hours ago

One might assume that a tropical storm moving through volcanic smog (vog) would sweep up the tainted air and march on, unchanged. However, a recent study from atmospheric scientists at the University of Hawai'i ...

Image: Wildfires continue near Yellowknife, Canada

13 hours ago

The wildfires that have been plaguing the Northern Territories in Canada and have sent smoke drifting down to the Great Lakes in the U.S. continue on. NASA's Aqua satellite collected this natural-color image ...

Excavated ship traced to Colonial-era Philadelphia

14 hours ago

Four years ago this month, archeologists monitoring the excavation of the former World Trade Center site uncovered a ghostly surprise: the bones of an ancient sailing ship. Tree-ring scientists at Columbia ...

User comments : 0