Mid Wales

Polar expedition to study Antarctica's climate history

A previous expedition to Antarctica
Image caption The team of scientists leaves the UK for Antarctica next week

Scientists from Aberystwyth and Leeds have joined forces to learn how glaciers behaved in the past so they can predict the future.

The expedition to the north-eastern Antarctic peninsula will study how they reacted to previous climate changes.

The polar experts will collect 100 boxes of rock samples to date how long they have been exposed to sunlight.

A team from Aberystwyth and Swansea universities spent five months studying the Greenland ice sheet last year.

The Antarctic team will be led by Professor Neil Glasser of Aberystwyth University.

Prof Glasser and his colleagues will hunt for clues about how the glaciers and ice sheets behaved in past climates and what we can expect in the future.

The Antarctic peninsula has suffered above average warming over the past 50 years, with around a 2.5°C temperature increase since 1950, said the universities.

This warming is causing glaciers and ice shelves to melt, releasing large volumes of fresh water into the oceans which not only raises sea level, but also influences regional climate change.

However, scientists do not fully understand the relationship between air and sea temperature, and the melting of ice.

It is difficult for them to assess whether the melting being observed at the moment is unprecedented in the context of geological time.

To address these outstanding questions, the team will collect samples of rock to date their exposure to cosmic radiation and analyse how glaciers and ice have retreated since the last ice age, around 20,000 years ago.

"The collapse of Antarctic ice shelves is largely thought to be caused by warming of the atmosphere, but it appears that changes in sea temperature and ice-shelf structure are also important," said Prof Glasser.

Image caption The scientists will have enough food and fuel to last three months

"With the climate expected to warm in the future, it is important for us to understand how Antarctic glaciers and ice shelves behaved in the past so we can predict how they will react in years to come if temperatures continue to rise."

The team of three scientists and one British Antarctic Survey (BAS) field assistant will be dropped off by the Royal Research Ship Ernest Shackleton on James Ross Island, just off the Antarctic Peninsula.

They will be heavily laden with equipment including four quad bikes, two trailers, scientific equipment, tents and enough food and fuel to last three months.

"Normally when researchers work in Antarctica they operate from a research ship or at an established station, whereas we will be dropped off with all our kit and left for two months with just radio contact to the rest of the world," said Dr Jonathan Carrivick from the University of Leeds, who will take part in the trip.

The research is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

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