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Anthony Powell

November Update

29 November 2021

EM-bird gets a passenger

For the first time this season, the EM-bird has a special passenger – it’s equipped with a snow radar in an innovation to see if using tandem technologies from the air can separate ice measurements from snow measurements.

This is precision flying. Measurements are taken from about 15m above the ground, timed to coincide with satellites passing overhead.

Ongoing research into the use of aircraft to validate satellite measurements of ice helps us to understand interactions between the ice, climate, ocean circulation and ecosystems, and the consequences around the globe.

The University of Canterbury and Lincoln Agritech research team, led by Wolfgang Rack, are working in collaboration with the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Germany.

EM Bird IBR Helo

International support for SWAIS 2C

Our researchers are preparing to drill into the ocean floor below the Ross Ice Shelf to discover if cutting greenhouse gas emissions avoids catastrophic melt of the icy continent.

Backed by a growing number of countries, this project will investigate the sensitivity of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to global warming of 2°C (SWAIS 2C) by retrieving sediment from the depths.

Geological records could reveal if there is a tipping point in our climate system when large amounts of land-based ice melts, causing oceans to rise many metres—if it has happened before, it could happen again.

Read more about drilling into Antarctica’s past to see our future.

Richard Levy drill test

A hidden river below the ice

This season the team are drilling into a river that’s been discovered below the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, near the Siple Coast.

The subglacial river is buried beneath hundreds of meters of ice, forming a channel several hundred meters high in the base of the ice, like an upside-down canyon.

Once they’ve drilled through the ice, the team will be able to sample water properties, image the ice and seafloor, and collect sediments from the seabed.

Huw Horgan leads the field team; this research is a collaboration of Victoria University’s Antarctic Research Centre, GNS Science, NIWA, University of Otago and University of Auckland.

Things change (we’re tracking it with GPS these days)

The Antarctic Research Centre has clocked up a milestone by fielding an all-women research team. Led by Alanna Alevropoulos-Borrill, they will be continuing data collection on ice flow at the Ross Ice Shelf to inform climate change models.

This involves revisiting GPS units installed in the 2019/20 and placing new ones onto the fastest-flowing part of the Ross Ice Shelf.

Understanding how the ice is moving, and how fast, is important because the shelves are a ‘safety band’ around Antarctica, holding back the ice sheet and limiting how much it can contribute to sea level rise.

We’ve come a long way since the 1960s when women first joined NZ’s Antarctic scientific programme, after the policies preventing it were removed. The numbers of women in polar science have gone from strength to strength, with the Wellington-based team joining the alumni of all-women field teams.

“We have enough female scientists that that can just happen, and that's really the big outcome for me,” Antarctic Science Platform director Nancy Bertler says.

Check out the TVNZ interview with Alanna and Nancy at the top of the page or here.

"The numbers are sharp and the repercussions alarming — but it’s not too late. We still have a chance to curb CO2 emissions before we reach a climate tipping point." - On the Precipice

COP26: On the Precipice

A new report summarises what we know about Antarctica and its ice sheets in a warming world. The science is clear that humanity cannot afford to let global temperature rise exceed more than 1.5°C.

On the Precipice – the climate change target that humanity cannot afford to miss draws on work by GNS Science—Te Pū Ao, the Antarctic Science Platform, Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, and researchers in many other New Zealand and overseas organisations, as well as publications from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Antarctic Science Platform director Dr Nancy Bertler said the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report delivered stark warnings about our future unless global greenhouse gas emissions are cut by 50% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.

Read more about how Antarctic science underpins urgency for climate action.

Subscribe to Cold Call for policy-relevant science updates.

Latest research and scientific breakthroughs

A new edition of Antarctic Climate Evolution synthesises the past decade’s research in a series of state-of-the-art reviews on the evolution and behaviour of the Antarctic ice sheet, with implications for its response to global warming.

The book is a legacy of SCAR’s Past Antarctic Ice Sheet (PAIS) dynamics programme, comprehensively summarising new knowledge and scientific breakthroughs made under its co-ordination.

It will be of interest to post-graduate students and researchers in Antarctic glaciology, climate change, paleoclimatology, and oceanography.

Co-Editors Tim Naish (NZ), Laura DeSantis (Italy), Martin Siegert (UK) and Fabio Florindo (Italy) are former leaders of PAIS and its predecessor programme ACE (Antarctic Climate Evolution).

Antarctic Science Platform (ASP) researchers, Richard Levy, Rob McKay, Lionel Carter, Nick Golledge, and Bella Duncan had leading roles in writing a number of chapters.

20211100 Antarctic Climate Evolution cover

Celebrating success

Antarctic researchers have been awarded research and other honours, including Marsden Fund grants to investigate the secrets of snow and phytoplankton, molecular time capsules, and the edge of human existence. For more on the Marsden Fund grant recipients click here. The Royal Society Te Apārangi has also recognised Antarctic researchers for their contribution. More on that here.