30 October, 2018

Science and support teams from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) are gearing up for the start of the Antarctic summer field season. A major focus for the season is the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), one of the largest potential sources of future sea-level rise.

From November 2018 to April 2019, scientists from BAS, UK universities and international research organisations will carry out an ambitious programme of scientific investigations to determine how the ice sheet, oceans and wildlife will respond to a warmer world.

BAS’s logistics and operational experts in Cambridge, and Antarctica are busy preparing to support science on its ships, at its research stations and at field camps in some of the most remote and inhospitable places on earth.

Construction of a new wharf at Rothera Research Station starts in November in preparation for the new polar ship – the RSS Sir David Attenborough. More than 50 expert construction workers from BAS construction partner BAM will be on site.

A team of specialists at Halley Research Station begin a new project to automate scientific instruments that capture data such as ozone concentration, space weather and upper atmosphere observations. At the same time, glaciologists will be investigating the latest behaviour of the Brunt Ice Shelf.

In the deep field, BAS is supporting a host of projects including one with a team from University of Manchester who are pioneering new technology to locate the ‘lost’ meteorites of Antarctica.

Professor David Vaughan, BAS Director of Science, says,

“This is one of the most exciting times of year for British Antarctic Survey.  Our scientists and engineers and logistics teams at research stations, on ships and on aircraft have spent years planning a very ambitious programme that will provide answers to the big questions about Antarctica’s changing environment. The deep fieldwork on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet will be extremely challenging for science and support teams, but their efforts will make a huge difference to our understanding of the contribution that this sector of the continent makes to global sea-level rise.”

Three major projects focussed on how the WAIS will respond in a warming world are:

  • The biggest single field project in the history of BAS, known as BEAMISH. Using hot-water drilling technology, pioneered by BAS engineers, scientists will drill more than 2 km through the fast-flowing Rutford ice stream, to the bed of the ice sheet. This is deeper than ever before using the hot-water technique.
  • Ice core drilling in West Antarctica (WACSWAIN). A European Research Council funded campaign to drill an ice core through to the bedrock on Skytrain Ice Rise to collect climate data spanning 120,000 years.
  • International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration. This is the first field season for the ambitious UK-US collaboration, which aims to understand the processes on Thwaites Glacier and reduce uncertainty on how it is contributing to global sea-level rise.

Biological research campaigns on board the RRS James Clark Ross and at Rothera Research Station will focus on how plants and animals adapt to a changing polar environment.  Scientists will collect oceanographic data with a range of equipment including gliders and robotics to understand how the Southern Ocean is responding to environmental change.  At the sub-Antarctic research stations of Bird Island, King Edward Point and Signy Island, scientists will continue to study the enigmatic wildlife that inhabit the islands such as albatrosses and fur seals and gentoo and macaroni penguins.