National Science Foundation supports Antarctic research on Larsen Ice Shelf

03/29/04

Researchers/students travel to Antarctica

NY – March 29, 2004 –The Antarctic Peninsula is undergoing greater warming than almost anywhere on Earth and the Peninsula's Larsen Ice Shelf , the third largest ice shelf in Antarctica, has experienced catastrophic decay since the mid 1990s. Hamilton College geology professor Eugene Domack has been awarded $851,941 from the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs for a collaborative research project to study the Paleohistory of the Larsen Ice Shelf.

The three-year project, with three field seasons in Antarctica, is a multi-institutional, international effort* that combines a variety of disciplines and integrates research with educational opportunities for primarily undergraduate institutions. Three Hamilton students, as well as students from other collaborating institutions, will be participating in a research trip to the Antarctic Peninsula from April 15 – May 10. For more on the expedition, go to www.hamilton.edu/antarctica.

Domack, who has taken more than 60 undergraduates to Antarctica since 1987, described the current research project, "We will test the hypothesis that the Larsen B Ice Shelf system has been a stable component since it formed during the rising sea levels 10,000 years ago. This conclusion, if supported by observations from our proposed work, is an important first step in establishing the uniqueness and consequences of rapid regional warming currently taking place across the Peninsula."

The researchers have already learned that climate-warming-inducing breakup of ice shelves produces a recognizable sedimentary signature in seafloor deposits that can be studied to understand the nature of historic ice shelf decay. Domack said, "Our previous work in the Larsen A and B embayments has allowed us to recognize the signature of past ice shelf fluctuations and their impact on the oceanographic and biologic environments."

Domack said, "We have overcome many of the limitations of standard radiocarbon dating in Antarctic marine sequences by using variations in the strength of the earth's magnetic field for correlation of sediment records and by using specific organic compounds (instead of bulk sediment) for radiocarbon dating."

The researchers intend to pursue these analytical advances and extend sediment core stratigraphy to areas uncovered by the most recent collapse of the Larsen B Ice Shelf and areas immediately adjacent to the Larsen C Ice Shelf. Domack said, "In addition to the core recovery program, we intend to utilize our unique access to the ice shelf front to continue our observations of the snow/ice stratigraphy, oceanographic character, and ocean floor character." Sediment traps will also be deployed in order to measure the input of debris from glaciers that are now surging in response to the ice shelf collapse.

This research addresses fundamental questions about the response of the Antarctic Peninsula to modern warming. Domack said, "Our proposed work contributes to understanding of these changes -- where they are occurring first and with greatest magnitude and impact upon the environment."

Source: Eurekalert & others

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