Posts Tagged "antarctica"

Creating the World’s First Ice Core Bank in Antarctica

Posted by on Nov 15, 2016 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Interviews, Science | 0 comments

Creating the World’s First Ice Core Bank in Antarctica

Spread the News:ShareGlaciers contain valuable information about past environments on Earth within the layers of ice that accumulate over hundreds or thousands of years. However, alpine glaciers have lost 50 percent of their mass since 1850, and projections suggest that glaciers below 3500m will not exist by 2100. Concerns about the loss of this valuable resource motivated Jérôme Chappellaz, a senior scientist at France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), and an international team of glaciologists, to create the world’s first archive of ice cores from different parts of the world. Ice cores are cylindrical sections of ice sheets or glaciers collected by vertical drilling. Chemical components within different layers of ice in glaciers, such as gases, heavy metals, chemical isotopes (forms of the same element with different numbers of neutrons in their nuclei) and acids, allow scientists to study past atmospheric composition and to draw inferences on environmental variables such as temperature changes and sea levels. Cores will be extracted between now and 2020, after which they will be transported for storage to Concordia Station in Antarctica, a joint French-Italian base located on the Antarctic Plateau. Antarctica serves as a natural freezer, allowing the cores to be stored 10 meters below the surface at temperatures of -54°C. International management of the archive, which will be large enough to contain cores from up to 20 glaciers, will be facilitated by the lack of territorial disputes in Antarctica. The first cores that will go into the archive were collected in summer 2016 between August 16th and 27th. Over this time period, two teams of French, Italian and Russian researchers successfully collected three ice cores, each 130 meters long and 92 millimeters in diameter, from France’s Col du Dôme glacier (4300m above sea level) on Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps. Drilling was carried out within drilling tents at nighttime because daytime temperatures were too high. The cores were then cut into one meter sections for storage and transportation purposes. “The cores are currently stored in our commercial freezers at Grenoble, France, waiting for the long term storage cave at Concordia Station in Antarctica to be built,” Chappellaz told GlacierHub. “One of the three cores will be used during the coming two years to produce reference records of all tracers (chemical components of ice that reveal information about the natural environment) that can be measured with today’s technologies.” The next drilling for the archive will take place in May 2017 at Illimani glacier in the Bolivian Andes (6300m above sea level). As with the drilling at Col du Dôme glacier, the project will be overseen by Patrick Ginot, a research engineer at the Laboratory of Glaciology and Environmental Geophysics (LGGE) in Grenoble. The collection of ice cores has relied on intense international collaboration, and Ginot will be working with glaciologists from Bolivia to extract the cores. Illimani is one of the few Latin American glaciers that contains information stretching back to the last glacial maximum around 20,000 years ago. Although ice cores collected from the Arctic and Antarctica, such as those from Dome C, provide information stretching back to that period, the value of the cores lies in the information they are able to provide about specific regions. For example, ice cores from France’s Col du Dôme glacier can provide information about European industrial emissions, while ice cores from Bolivia’s Illimani glacier could offer insight into the history of biomass burning in the Amazon basin. Glaciers will be selected based on a number of criteria, with priority given to glaciers that contain large amounts of information about the regions from...

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Prominent Scientist Gordon Hamilton Dies in Antarctica

Posted by on Nov 9, 2016 in All Posts, Featured Posts, News | 0 comments

Prominent Scientist Gordon Hamilton Dies in Antarctica

Spread the News:ShareGordon Hamilton, a respected glaciologist, died recently while on field research in Antarctica after his snowmobile fell 100 feet into a crevasse. The 50-year-old associate research professor worked at the University of Maine where he studied the effects of climate change on the shrinking glaciers of Greenland and Antarctica. Dr. Hamilton had been conducting field research about 25 miles south of McMurdo Station, the largest of three U.S. research stations in Antarctica, located on the southern tip of Ross Island. He was driving his snowmobile in a remote area known as the McMurdo shear zone where two large ice shelves meet and crevasses are typically found. Leigh Stearns, Assistant Professor at the University of Kansas, who worked with Gordon Hamilton for over 17 years, including for 24 months of fieldwork, talked to GlacierHub about the risks facing researchers like Hamilton: “There are certainly dangers associated with doing fieldwork in remote places,” she said. “However, we spend so much time and effort thinking about these risks and trying to mitigate against them, that I think we’re often safer in the field than at home.” According to Stearns, Gordon was experienced and extremely cautious doing fieldwork. “This trip to Antarctica was no exception. It should be noted that there is nothing anyone could have done to prevent the accident that killed him.” Jonathan Kingslake, a glaciologist at Columbia University, agreed: “I am keen to point out that the risks are not that great and accidents are actually quite rare.” According to Kingslake, many observations vital for understanding ice sheets can only be made by moving around on the surface of the ice, even despite advances in satellite and airborne remote sensing. “Ground-based polar fieldwork involves different risks than you face in normal life,” he said. “For example, extreme cold, light aircraft use, and crevassing. These can be exacerbated by remoteness, but usually the risks can be mitigated successfully. Only rarely do serious accidents happen.” Dr. Hamilton set fear aside in Greenland and Antarctica frequently, including during a decades-long stretch when he went to Greenland two to three times a year for field work. He supplemented his research by using satellite remote sensing to track the shrinking of the ice sheets in both Greenland and Antarctica.  According to an interview Hamilton gave last year, “No research had previously been conducted on the oceanic waters of a typical fjord” in Greenland. By going out into the field, despite known dangers, Dr. Hamilton discovered that water temperatures reached 4°C between 200 meters and 1000 meters below the surface, within 20 km of the edge of the ice sheet. Hamilton believed this was the best explanation for the abrupt changes observed in Greenland over the past 15 years. “They’ve all been caused by the ocean,” he said at the time. Although he knew the risks, as all glaciologists do, Hamilton lived his life with courage, in pursuit of a greater truth about our changing climate. The death of Hamilton in Antarctica has since sent shock waves through the research community. On behalf of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Polar Programs, Dr. Kelly K. Falkner released a statement about the community’s tragic loss. The statement reads: “The U.S. Antarctic Program is a close-knit corps of researchers and support personnel who carry out the nation’s program of research in Antarctica, working at the frontiers of human knowledge, but also at the physical frontiers of human experience. The death of one of our colleagues is a tragic reminder of the risks we all face—no matter how hard we work at mitigating those risks—in field research.” Dr....

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Photo Friday: The Glaciers of Antarctica

Posted by on Oct 21, 2016 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Images, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Photo Friday: The Glaciers of Antarctica

Spread the News:ShareAntarctica, the world’s southernmost continent, is a hostile realm of ice and snow, fictionalized in our popular culture by the likes of H.P. Lovecraft and further romanticized by real-world scientific explorers eager to lay claim to the region. Humans who venture to the southernmost pole do so by way of the Antarctic Peninsula, where they may visit Port Lockroy, site of a former British research station, or take in by cruise the vast terrain and wildlife of the region. Multiple countries also operate scientific camps and research programs in more remote locales of Antarctica where science teams study awe-inspiring glaciers and ice sheets throughout the year. The largest ice sheet in the world, Antarctica is composed of around 98% continental ice and 2% barren rock. The ancient ice is incredibly thick, although it has been thinning due to the effects of climate change. Several nations have made overlapping claims to the Antarctic continent. The Antarctic Treaty, signed in Washington in 1959, attempts to maintain peace, by neither denying or providing recognition to these territorial claims. Today, a total of 53 countries have signed the treaty, including Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom, countries that have all made specific claims in the region. The United States and Russia, meanwhile, have maintained a “basis of claim” in the region. Scientists of these nations conduct field research from Antarctica bases to gather greater knowledge about climatic changes affecting the larger world. Studying glaciers in Antarctica is of great impact due to the influence of melting glaciers on global sea levels. In addition, Antarctica plays a primary role in the world’s climate. According to Antarcticglaciers.org, “Cold water is formed in Antarctica. Because freshwater ice at the surface freezes onto icebergs, this water is not only cold, it is salty. This cold, dense, salty water sinks to the sea floor, and drives the global ocean currents, being replaced with warmer surface waters from the equatorial regions.” Ice sheets in Antarctica are fragile and a number have recently collapsed, causing glacial thinning and threatening a rise in sea levels. Some scientists are concerned that the collapsing ice sheets may not be just a natural occurrence but one more closely linked to a warming planet. The Pine Island Glacier is one of the “fastest receding glaciers in the Antarctic” and a major contributor to our rising sea levels, according to the U.S. Antarctic Program. Scientists have observed an ice shelf on the Pine Island Glacier that is rapidly thinning, pushing the glacier toward the sea. A team of scientists constructed a field camp in 2012-2013 to study the impacts of climate change on the glacier, also known as PIG. The PIG field camp staff learned to contend with adverse weather conditions in the area and events like windstorms, a common occurrence in this remote and hostile part of the world. Helicopters provide support to field projects such as the one conducted in 2012-2013 at the Pine Island Glacier. Elsewhere in Antarctica is the McMurdo Dry Valleys, the largest ice-free area in the region—approximately 15,000-square-kilometers— where science teams perform research projects on glaciers, lakes, and soils, funded by the National Science Foundation. The area is an extreme landscape, but it can also be a useful environment for scientists hoping to study the impacts of climate change. In Antarctica, teams of scientists can extract old ice flowing from the ends of glaciers in large quantities rather than by drilling directly into the ancient ice sheet. Around 350 kilograms of ice is then melted into a vacuum-sealed container to capture around 35...

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Roundup: Antarctica and Greenland in peril, black carbon

Posted by on Jul 25, 2016 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Roundup, Science, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Roundup: Antarctica and Greenland in peril, black carbon

Spread the News:ShareNinety percent of the western Antarctic Peninsula’s glaciers are retreating From Carbon Brief: “These rivers of ice ooze their way down through the Peninsula’s rocky mountain range and into the ocean, powered by gravity and their own weight. But of the 674 glaciers on the Peninsula’s western side, almost 90% are retreating. This happens when their ice melts faster than new snowfall can replenish it. “The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest warming regions on Earth. Temperatures have risen by more than 3C over the past 50 years. The warming atmosphere has caused some remarkable changes to the eastern side of the Peninsula. The Larsen ice shelf, a floating sheet of ice formed from glaciers spilling out onto the cold ocean, has lost two of its four sections in recent decades.” Learn more about the Antarctic Peninsula’s glaciers and effects on the ocean here.   Greenland lost a mind-blowing 1 trillion tons of ice in under four years From Washington Post: “It’s the latest story in a long series of increasingly worrisome studies on ice loss in Greenland. Research already suggests that the ice sheet has lost at least 9 trillion tons of ice in the past century and that the rate of loss has increased over time. Climate scientists are keeping a close eye on the region because of its potentially huge contributions to future sea-level rise (around 20 feet if the whole thing were to melt) — not to mention the damage it’s already done. Ice loss from Greenland may have contributed as much as a full inch of sea-level rise in the last 100 years and up to 10 percent of all the sea-level rise that’s been documented since the 1990s. “Overall, the ice loss was particularly prevalent in the southwest, but the scientists noted that there were also losses observed in the cooler, northern parts of the ice sheet. Notably, the researchers also found that a solid 12 percent of all the ice loss came from just a handful of glaciers composing less than 1 percent of the ice sheet’s total area.” Read more here.   Understanding black carbon impact on glaciers From International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD): “In April 2016 and team of glaciologists and experts from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development’s (ICIMOD) and partner organisations — Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, Utrecht University, Kathmandu University (KU),Tribhuvan University (TU), Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVI) went to Langtang for a field visit. “‘The elevation of Yala Glacier is higher compared to those in Pakistan. Gulkin Glacier, in Pakistan, starts from 2700 to 4000 m, so there was almost no snow on the glacier in this season. Only towards the top of the glacier at around 4000m AMSL snow was present. The rest of the glacier was mostly debris’, Chaman said. Sachin Glacier, at 3200- 4000m AMSL, is different to Yala and Gulkin, and samples collected from this glacier represent semi-aged or aged-snow. ‘There was fresh snow on the night of collection so the samples were very fresh’  Chaman said of Langtang. He expects to see large variability in black carbon concentrations in the samples, contributing to effect of elevation, geographical location, glacier type, age and fresh samples.” Learn more here.   Spread the...

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Intimacy and Expertise: A Conversation with Antarctic Anthropologist Jessica O’Reilly

Posted by on Jun 15, 2016 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Interviews, Science | 0 comments

Intimacy and Expertise: A Conversation with Antarctic Anthropologist Jessica O’Reilly

Spread the News:ShareWhen most people think about Antarctica, they do not think about people.  That is not the case for Jessica O’Reilly, assistant professor of international studies at Indiana University.  In her April 2016 paper, “Sensing the ice: field science, models, and expert intimacy with knowledge,” published in theJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, O’Reilly explores the life of Antarctic scientists and their intimate knowledge of their frozen world. With years of experience and deep contact with their subject matters, experts of the most southern continent develop an understanding that allows the scientific community to most accurately answer pressing questions, even when lacking complete scientific data.  In her paper, O’Reilly explores a common tool called expert elicitation used to garner this educated opinion.  This method is often used in the assessment of glacier melting and assessment reports on climte change. In an interview with GlacierHub, O’Reilly discusses her adventure to the Antarctic and her findings on the deep connection field scientists and modelers have with Antarctica.  A condensed and edited version of the conversation follows.   GlacierHub: Your recent paper discusses the intuitive understanding a scientist develops when working closely with a subject.  In your article’s case, the subject is the Antarctic ice sheet. Can you walk me through the phases of your research? JOR: In 2004, I began participant observation with Antarctic scientists and policy makers.  Then in 2005 and 2006 I lived in New Zealand, where I worked with Antarctic scientists and policy makers and went on an Antarctic expedition in December of 2005 to do my dissertation project. I tried to understand how and why Antarctic scientists do what they do.  My main question was how that [their behavior] affects environmental management and policy.  I followed that up with a second project, which was archival research on what scientist believe will happen to the West Antarctic ice sheet and how those projections have changed over time. In this paper, I looked back at both of these projects and instead of directly studying how the scientists do their research, I tried to understand how the folk tales or legends they spun about their experiences on the ice, or with their data, may affect their perception of the ice sheet.   GH: The word intimacy is very powerful.  Can you explain further how someone can have an intimate relationship with an inanimate object like ice? JOR: I’m thinking about intimacy as knowing something well, through a long and deep relationship. In the article, I suggest that expert knowledge emerges through these long-term encounters with their field sites and their objects of encounter. This builds from Hugh Raffles’ work on “Intimate Knowledge,” that he published in 2002.   GH: Can you define the term, “expert elicitation,” and discuss its connection to environmental policy? JOR: Expert elicitation is a formalization of this idea that scientific judgment is highly valued.  It is a… research method where social scientists will send out surveys or gather specialists to give their thoughts about something that is very uncertain, such as predictions about the collapse of the ice sheet.  At the time of expert elicitation there is typically high uncertainty in the data either from the models or field observations about what may happen.  However, there are experts who have living knowledge based on all the time they have spent on the glacier or with their models – or both.   GH: Why do you think it’s important to bring social research, such as expert elicitation, into scientific analysis? JOR: A good reason to utilize it is to fill [data] gaps in scientific assessments like the...

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