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BEAMISH: Bed Access, Monitoring and Ice Sheet History

BEAMISH: Basal conditions on Rutford Ice Stream: Bed Access, Monitoring and Ice Sheet History

The polar ice sheets play a major role in controlling Earth’s sea level and climate, but our understanding of their history and motion is poor. It results that the biggest uncertainty in predicting future sea level comes from the Antarctic and the Greenland ice sheets. Reducing this uncertainty is currently one of the biggest challenges in glaciology and is essential because:

  • the sea level rise due to the melting of Greenland and Antarctica is increasing faster than expected, and
  • Antarctica and Greenland have the potential to trigger irreversible sea level rise that could continue for many centuries.

BEAMISH will improve understanding of two aspects of this uncertainty; first, the past behavior of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and second, the flow of the fast “ice streams” that drain it. Through measurements at the ice surface, and by drilling to the bed of Rutford Ice Stream, we will find how long ago the ice sheet last disappeared completely, and how water and soft sediments underneath it helped the ice move fast on its journey to eventually melting in the sea.

The ice of Rutford Ice Stream is well over 2 km thick and drilling right through it is a huge challenge. We will use a large hot-water drill which will take up to 2 days to melt down to the bed. This drill is being built now and the largest parts, weighing up to 7 tonnes, are already sitting on the ice in Antarctica. Over the next 3 years the remaining equipment and fuel will be put in place ready for the fieldwork. BAS are leading the BEAMISH Project, with collaborations from a number of UK and overseas organizations. These include universities of Swansea, UCL, Bristol and Aberystwyth, and NASA-JPL.

BEAMISH’s aims are both academic and practical. The overall goal is to find out how Rutford Ice Stream has changed in the past and is flowing today. To do this we will:

  • Drill access holes to the bed of Rutford Ice Stream
  • Sample and instrument the bed, ice and surface
  • Find out when the ice sheet last disappeared
  • Measure the temperature and straining of the ice
  • See how water and sediment under the ice allow it to move fast

BEAMISH is already a large team. Including:

BAS Ice Dynamics & Palaeoclimate: Andy Smith, Hugh Corr, Alex Brisbourne, Ed King

BAS Polar Oceans: Keith Nicholls, Keith Makinson, Paul Anker, Tom Stroud

BAS Palaeoenvironments: Dominic Hodgson, Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand

University of Swansea; Prof. Tavi Murray

University of Bristol: Prof. Jemma Wadham

UCL: Prof Peter Sammonds

University of Aberystwyth: Prof. Bryn Hubbard

BAS Operations staff are key to deploying and supporting the fieldwork part of BEAMISH, especially (so far) Mike Dinn, Simon Garrod and James Wake

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