In 1773, Captain Cook described the great southern continent Terra Australis Incognita as ‘A country doomed by nature never once to feel the warmth of the sun’s rays but to lie forever buried under everlasting snow and ice.’ But is it?
With these words Professor Chris Turney, from University of New South Wales, introduces his research into climate change. Turney returns to Antarctica this January, along with Dr. Chris Fogwill from the University of Exeter, with the ambitious goal of producing the first climate re-construction of the Heritage Range. The duo have made two previous trips to Antarctica sampling rocks to understand how the Antarctic ice sheet has responded to past climate change.
The two climate change specialists will undertake scientific exploration of the Patriot Hills, part of Antarctica’s Ellsworth Mountains. High winds at Patriot Hills, which average more than 15mph (25km/hr), create a challenging work environment. Fortunately however, these high winds also work in their favor, scouring the surface snow and exposing blue-ice below. The winds are so fast and dry, the ice at the surface is removed by a process known as sublimation, drawing ancient, compressed snowfall up from down below. The practical upshot is this process exposes a wonderfully accessible, detailed record of past climate change preserved in millennia-old ice that allows them to literally walk back through time.
Instead of coring for past climate, Turney and Fogwill will work across the surface (and against the elements!) to collect this precious archive. The idea is this will produce the first climate reconstruction for the region over the last twelve thousand years. By extending ‘historical’ records of the last few decades, they hope to gain a better understanding of how Antarctic ice sheets respond to past and future change.
The project is based at the University of New South Wales (Australia) and funded by the Australian Research Council, with logistic support provided by ANI's parent company Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions.