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Marsden success for Antarctic science projects


Two Antarctic research projects have been awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in the latest round of Marsden funding.

The prestigious funding is administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

One of the projects, led by Associate Professor Nancy Bertler, is a continuation of the Roosevelt Island ice core project, and has been awarded $960,000.

The project will focus on how the destabilisation of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet will affect global sea level rise in a Paris Agreement, or warmer, world. Associate Professor Bertler, jointly appointed by GNS Science and Victoria University of Wellington, is leading the project which further examines the existing ice core.

The RICE project was supported by Antarctica New Zealand and the US Antarctic Programme between 2011 and 2014 and saw a 763-metre ice core recovered from Roosevelt Island. The huge project spanning multiple seasons was led by Associate Professor Bertler and involved nine countries.

The core is currently stored at the GNS Science National Ice Core Research Facility, which is a specialised freezer facility in Wellington.

Associate Professor Nancy Bertler says the project allows scientists to verify and improve models that provide future forecasts.

“The RICE ice core provides records of past conditions that are relevant to climate conditions anticipated for the next 20-100 years. I feel privileged to work with my colleagues on this important topic as the world races to implement the Paris Agreement,” she says.

The other Antarctic research project is led by NIWA’s Dr Craig Stewart. He has been awarded $300,000 to look at how quickly parts of the Ross Ice Shelf are melting.

Over the next 3 years a number of monitoring stations with ice penetrating radar will be set up on the Ross Ice Shelf to track changes in ice thickness caused by ocean-driven melting. These measurements will help researchers understand variability in melt rates at the base of the ice shelf.

Dr Stewart says the project will provide valuable new information on the oceanographic processes that drive melting.

“Ice shelves are critical to the stability of the Antarctic Ice Sheet, but they are vulnerable to ocean driven melting from below. Mapping melt rate variability will help us understand the processes that drive melting in this sensitive region, and to improve our estimates of ice shelf stability,” he says.

Antarctica New Zealand’s Acting Chief Scientific Advisor Dr Fiona Shanhun says it is great to see these globally significant Antarctic research projects receiving the funding they deserve.

“Understanding how the Ross Ice Shelf is changing, and how Antarctica responded to past warm periods in the Earth’s history is of critical importance to New Zealanders and people around the world.

“These projects will help scientists make more accurate projections of changes that we’ll face as the planet continues to warm,” she says.


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