Undergrad researchers head to Antarctica to study melting ice shelves


National Science Foundation funding supports multi-college expedition

National Science Foundation Office of Polar ProgramsClinton, NY "This is one time that Hollywood has understated an event. The collapse of an Antarctic ice shelf can be far more destructive and catastrophic than movies have portrayed," says Hamilton College geology professor Eugene Domack, leader of a research team headed for Antarctica. The group of undergraduate students and professors from five institutions are headed to the continent to continue their investigation of the causes for the collapse of a massive ice shelf, known as Larsen B. They hope to understand whether such a collapse is unique or part of a cycle that extends over hundreds of thousands of years.

Domack, who has taken more than 100 undergraduates to Antarctica since 1987, plans to study the paleohistory of the Larsen Ice Shelf on this expedition which begins on Feb. 11 and ends on March 11. He was awarded $851,941 from the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs in 2004. These expeditions are among the very few that include undergraduate student researchers.

This is the second year of a three-year multi-institutional, international effort that combines a variety of disciplines and integrates research with educational opportunities. In describing this year's research project Domack said, "We will analyze our samples to determine if changes exist in the sedimentology, paleontology, and geophysical character throughout the cores that might indicate whether the Larsen Ice Shelf has undergone similarly dramatic changes in its history or if current changes are truly unique."

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."

Hamilton College Senior Gemma Kirkwood, who participated on last year's expedition used research from the trip in a paper that received the Outstanding Student Paper Award at the American Geophysical Union meeting in December 2004. She was in competition with Ph.D. candidates as well as undergraduate students for this honor. Kirkwood is investigating the natural climate variability of the Antarctic Peninsula by identifying strong periods within a 5000-year record from the Schollaert Drift. Her project is important because a greater understanding of climate variability is necessary for a comprehensive evaluation of current and future conditions. Kirkwood is joined by Hamilton seniors Ashley Hatfield and Heather Schrum on this year's expedition.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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