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Understanding Antarctica’s role in a warmer world

GNS Science experts are tackling one of the world’s most pressing environmental questions: will the West Antarctic ice sheet remain if we manage to keep warming below 2°C?

GNS Science will co-lead two projects as part of the Antarctic Science Platform.
Along with partners from Victoria University of Wellington, Otago University and NIWA, scientists will combine cutting-edge science and innovative technology to critically improve future projections about Antarctica’s response to climate change.

The Antarctic Ice Dynamics project will develop and deploy a new custom drilling system, enabling scientists to take samples from remote locations which haven’t been fully explored before.

“We will travel towards the centre of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and drill into the seafloor at the point where the ice sheet goes afloat, which we haven’t been able to do previously,” GNS Science’s Richard Levy says.

“We need to know what happened to the ice sheet when temperatures on Earth were last like those we expect in the future - if we meet the targets set in the Paris Agreement.

“We don’t yet have direct evidence about whether the Ice Sheet survived, and this research will give us a definite answer.

“We can then project future sea level rise with greater accuracy, which will help inform important decisions about how New Zealanders manage and develop coastal areas.

“This knowledge will also be incredibly important for the 700 million people around the world who live in sea-rise vulnerable areas.”

The project will be co-led by glaciologist Huw Horgan from Victoria University of Wellington’s Antarctic Research Centre.

“The Antarctic Science Platform is enabling a new age of scientific exploration in the Antarctic,” Dr Horgan says.

“This means we can go where we need to go so we can understand the future of the ice sheets and sea level rise.”

In the second project, Sea Ice and Carbon Cycle Feedbacks, the team will investigate the impact of climate change on sea ice, biological productivity and carbon dioxide uptake in the Southern Ocean.

“The Southern Ocean currently acts as a ‘carbon sink’, taking up a large portion of the carbon dioxide that is emitted into the air from human activity,” Liz Keller from GNS Science says.

“We need to know whether the carbon sink is increasing or decreasing in size, and whether it will continue to be a sink in the future.

“To do that we need more year-round observations to build a fuller picture of the ocean dynamics and trends in this region.

“We’re excited to have this opportunity to fill some of the gaps in the data record, so we can understand more about the long-term consequences of these changes.”

GNS Science’s Chief Scientist Gary Wilson says this kind of innovative multi-disciplinary work will produce science that will underpin the decisions we make about our changing climate system.

“The Antarctic Science Platform brings together the best minds in earth and natural science, and GNS Science is pleased to help lead in these new science programmes,” Dr Wilson says.

“We look forward to deepening our partnerships with other research institutions and helping to build a world that’s resilient to our changing climate.”

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