An international team is embarking on an expedition to recover a geological climate record from further and deeper into the West Antarctic Ice Sheet that has ever been obtained, to understand how quickly the ice sheet will melt and how much sea level rise to expect.
Antarctica New Zealand’s traverse team is on its way to the Kamb Ice Shelf, about 1100km from Scott Base, towing polar sleds carrying science equipment and everything needed to set up the camp ready for the researchers, engineers and drillers to commence their work.
Recent science has shown that it is inevitable that the warming Southern Ocean will speed up the melting of parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) regardless of our future carbon dioxide emissions. The WAIS holds enough ice to raise sea level by five metres if completely melted.
While we are committed to sea level rise, we aren’t yet certain how much and how fast the ice in West Antarctica will melt. Parts of the WAIS appear highly vulnerable, but it’s unclear when and under what climatic conditions we will we lose the large buttressing ice shelves that stabilise the ice inland and slow its flow into the ocean. To help answer this question, we have to turn to the geological record and recover sediment from regions near the centre of West Antarctica that were deposited during past times when it was warmer than today.
These sediments hold environmental information that is key to our future but, until now, has been impossible to obtain.