13 July, 2011

Antarctic geoscientists and ice sheet modellers get together in Edinburgh this week to investigate ways to improve predictions of likely sea-level rise as a result of future ice loss from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Satellite observations and on-the-ice measurements provide evidence of rapid change in the Amundsen Sea Embayment. Glaciers in this region have accelerated their flow towards the coast and ice has become thinner. There is an urgent need for Antarctic scientists from many different countries to work together to pool their knowledge and observations and improve computer simulations to help determine the contribution that this region will make to future sea-level rise. It has been estimated that the Amundsen Sea Embayment contains enough ice to raise global sea level by 1.2 m, but so far scientists are unable to fully explain the true impact of and timescale of future change.

At discussion meetings and workshops taking place this week at the International Symposium on Antarctic Earth Sciences. Researchers focus on the clues locked in the sediments and hard rock beneath the 3km of ice.

Professor Mike Bentley from the University of Durham, Professor John Anderson from Rice University USA, Dr Karsten Gohl from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany and Dr Rob Larter from British Antarctic Survey are bringing together leading experts for a discussion meeting at the Symposium. Dr Larter says,

“Over the past few years considerable efforts have been made to acquire new data to improve knowledge of the geological strucure, subglacial topography, continental shelf bathymetry and glacial history of this remote region. The region is more than 1200 km from the British station at Rothera on the Antarctic Peninsula and even further from the US McMurdo Station in the Ross Sea, so fieldwork in the area is a major logistical challenge.

“On a research ship it takes about a week to reach the region from southernmost South America and even longer from New Zealand. Ship based research is also complicated by the fact that the Amundsen Sea is covered by sea ice for most of the year.

“During our workshop we will discuss proposals for scientific campaigns to drill into the sediments to collect samples that will provide us with evidence the long-term history of climate and ice-sheet change. By looking to the past we can get a clearer picture of what we are observing today and our aim is to make improved predictions for the future.”

No scientific drilling has yet been carried out in the region to investigate the history of climate and ice-sheet change further back than the last glacial maximum (about 20,000 years ago). In order to fully understand the sensitivity of the ice sheet to climate change it is necessary to drill to recover the records of past glacial cycles preserved in the offshore sediments. Scientific drilling enables scientists to examine the processes that operated at the base of the ice when it was more extensive. By drilling into sediments that were deposited more than three million years ago researchers hope to find out how the ice sheet behaved the last time CO2 levels in the atmosphere were as high as they are today.


Issued by the British Antarctic Survey Press Office:

Athena Dinar, tel. +44 (0) 1223 221414, mobile 07736 921693, email: amdi@bas.ac.uk
Linda Capper, tel +44 (0) 1223 221448, mobile 07714 233744, email: lmca@bas.ac.uk

Notes for editors

Photos are available from the British Antarctic Survey Press Office – details above.

The International Symposium on Antarctic Earth Sciences 2011 will be held at the John McIntyre Centre, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh from 11–15 July.

A Press Centre will operate at the venue from Mon 11 – Wed 13 July. Contact Athena or Linda as above if you wish to attend. All sessions are open to journalists.