Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Antarctic Update


My eldest has sent me this detailed itinerary of his Antarctic expedition:

I. Where am I going, exactly?

We'll fly from Christchurch, NZ, to McMurdo Station to collect
supplies. From there we'll fly through Siple Dome field camp on our
way to our field site. We'll have a direct return to McMurdo when
we're done. The Transantarctic Mountains, as the name suggests, nearly
span the entire continent. They act as the geographic boundary between
East Antarctica (bordering the Atlantic and Indian Oceans) and West
Antarctica (Pacific Ocean). The ice sheet in East Antarctica is much
thicker than in West Antarctica and thus the surface of the ice sheet
is higher (and colder). This ice flows through the Transantarctic
Mountains in massive outlet glaciers toward the lower West Antarctic
Ice Sheet, the Ross Ice Shelf, and eventually the Ross Sea where
enormous icebergs calve, float away, and melt. We'll be going to one
of these outlet glaciers flowing through the mountains, the Scott
(named after Robert Falcon Scott, the British Antarctic
explorer, although he never saw it). We won't be on the glacier as
much as adjacent to it, looking for glacial debris deposited on the
hills, ridges, and mountains along the margin of the glacier. We'll be
as low as 600 feet above sea level at the foot of the glacier, and
perhaps as high as 6,000 feet in mountains upstream.

I. Details on our research: who cares about the Scott Glacier?

The focus of our field work is the geologic history of the Scott
Glacier. The reason this is important is because of its location
between the East and West Antarctic Ice Sheets. The West Antarctic Ice
Sheet happens to sit primarily on the seafloor rather than on solid
land, the only existing "marine" ice sheet on Earth (there may have
been another during the ice age in the Arctic Ocean north of Russia;
the Laurentide Ice Sheet also got its toes wet in Hudson Bay and beyond
towards Baffin Island). This close connection to the ocean makes the
ice sheet much more sensitive to changes in climate and sea level. It
is well established that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was much larger
during the last ice age 20,000 years ago. From about 15,000 to 5,000
years ago the Earth's climate warmed considerably and sea level rose
due to melting ice sheets in North America and Europe. Understanding
how the West Antarctic Ice Sheet responded to these changing conditions
is required before scientists can predict what the ice sheets will do
in the future. This is, of course, of particular concern given the
dramatic climate change that has been happening in the past 150 years
around the world, including Antarctica. We'll be collecting a large
number of rock samples from the glacial deposits we find. These
samples will be brought back to the University of Washington where
they'll be used to determine the age of the deposits, and thus the past
size of the Scott Glacier.

Hopefully, he will update again, although once he is in the field his communications will be very limited.

By Professor Batty


Blogger Sharon Spotbottom said...

Neat, wow. Watch out for fairy penguins.

Blogger Professor Batty said...

... There are plenty of penguins at McMurdo, he called last night from there... he'll be heading for the interior Monday, after a survival training refresher...

Blogger Sharon Spotbottom said...

'...survival training refresher...'
Fresh alright

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