“Why do you get to go to Antarctica?” FAQ time.

It’s often helpful, if you’re willing to follow someone’s published thoughts and adventures, to understand what they actually do and why they do it.

As I briefly mention on my About me page, the next 3 (maybe 3 and a half, 4) years of my life will mainly be spent studying for a doctorate degree.

“Where are you researching?”

My research will focus on areas of the Antarctic ice sheets, looking at specific glaciers/ice streams in the Transantarctic Mountains (which divide the West and East ice sheets). The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) has been in the media a lot in the past (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/mar/18/west-antarctic-ice-sheet-melthttp://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8387137.stm). This is because most of the underlying land is below sea level which makes it very susceptible to warming and rapid melting, and therefore it has a possible threshold point leading to ice sheet collapse. The East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) is bigger and considered more stable as it rests on a larger proportion of land. The Transantarctic Mountains provide an interesting partial barrier to the EAIS, through which ice streams flow into the Ross Ice Shelf.

“What are you trying to find out, and why?”

The project aims to find out how think and extensive the glaciers were in this region of Antarctica at the peak of the last ice age, and to see how they thinned and retreated to their current form. By understanding this past behaviour of glaciers it provides an insight into their relationship with past climate systems and can therefore help towards predicting the future response of ice sheets to climate changes. The data collected will be used to help test and validate ice sheet computer models which look to predict future change.

“How are you going to study this?”

By surveying the material and land features found in the area, one can see the where ice used to flow and what processes occurred. Some rocks can show obvious signs that they have been moved there by a glacier because they are a different rock type to that found locally in the landscape. These rocks are called erratics and are typically collected from the peaks of mountains which poke through the ice (known as nunataks). A technique called cosmogenic nuclide dating allows us to measure how long ago glacially-deposited boulders were left behind by the ice sheet, and from this we can establish the height and length of the ice sheet at different points in time. The results can then be compared to other data from the region such as further ice sheet information, ice cores, sea ice records, etc. But first things first, I need to go out to Antarctica to make some notes and collect some rocks!

If you fancy getting involved in Antarctica, just follow this advice: How to get a job in Antarctica

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