Teams of scientists, engineers, pilots and support staff from British Antarctic Survey, USA, Germany, Australia, China and Japan are to join forces for one of the most scientifically, technically ambitious and physically demanding Antarctic projects yet to be undertaken.
|One of the aims of the mission to Antarctica will be to study subglacial lakes|
The mission of this International Polar Year project is to uncover secrets of the Gamburtsev subglacial mountains that are buried by up to 4km of ice, to hunt for the oldest ice on our planet, to study subglacial lakes and to discover new clues of past, present and future climate change.
Geophysicist Dr Fausto Ferraccioli of BAS is leading the UK science effort. He said: “This is both an exciting and challenging project. It is a bit like preparing to go to Mars. Because of IPY, scientists from six countries are working together to do the unthinkable, to explore the deep interior of East Antarctica – one of the last frontier regions of our planet. For two and a half months our international teams will pool their resources and expertise to survey mountains the size of the Alps buried under the ice sheet that currently defy any reasonable geological explanation. At the same time, we will hunt for ice that is more than 1.2 million years old. Locked in this ancient ice is a detailed record of past climate change that will assist in making better predictions for our future.”
Working at high altitude in temperatures of minus 40ºC, science teams will operate from two remote field camps to complete the first major geophysical survey to ‘map’ the mysterious landscape that lies beneath the vast ice sheet.
BAS and the US National Science Foundation (NSF) will work together with the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) to deploy two survey aircraft, equipped with ice-penetrating radar, gravimeters and magnetic sensors. US, Chinese and Japanese teams will study the deeper structure under the Gamburtsev subglacial mountains using seismology.
Professor Nicholas Owens, Director of British Antarctic Survey said: “There’s an amazing history of our planet locked in Antarctica’s ice and rocks. It’s only now that we have the technology to start uncovering the secrets from this unique natural laboratory. This is really big science and it can be done only by working with partners from other national Antarctic programmes.”