Antarctic sea ice reveals more about climate change
01 March 2012
Investigating the thickness of sea ice in Antarctica that could be being affected by climate change has been a rewarding experience for UC's Gateway Antarctica PhD student Daniel Price.
Investigating the thickness of sea ice in Antarctica that could be being affected by climate change has been a rewarding experience for UC’s Gateway Antarctica PhD student Daniel Price.
Daniel spent three weeks in McMurdo Sound last November gathering data for his PhD research into mapping sea ice thickness using satellites.
“There are a team of people working on sea ice thickness from NASA and other organisations, but research has been minimal in the Antarctic. We know how much the ice expands but little is known about the thickness of the ice,” he says.
During his first fieldwork expedition in the previously un-mapped area, Daniel’s research involved drilling through the ice to check its thickness at the exact time a satellite flew overhead recording the data from space.
“Knowledge of sea ice thickness in the Southern Ocean is very limited. Such knowledge is highly desirable to further our understanding of processes in the natural environment but crucially to assess the change in the Antarctic environment induced by climate change,” he says.
“The European Space Agency launched a satellite last year and we were doing a ground validation survey. It’s important with remote sensing data that we validate it so that when the satellite went overhead we were on the ground measuring the readings manually so we can verify if the readings are correct.”
Daniel says satellites allow better coverage over an area that’s bigger than Russia.
“Satellites offer the only feasible way of covering such broad areas. The satellites use lasers and radar instruments to retrieve elevation measurements from the earth’s surface. Currently there is no way of directly measuring sea ice thickness from space. Methods do exist for indirect measurements. These methods involve many complications and uncertainties. My PhD is involved in minimising these complications and removing the uncertainties.”
In order to analyse the ice Daniel and a team of scientists, including a PhD student from the University of Alberta, drilled 40 holes directly below where the satellite passed 700km above the earth.
“We also carried out a helicopter born electromagnetic induction survey, which can record sea ice thickness at close range 20 metres above the ground over a 1600km area,” he says.
“The idea is to pull all that data together to get better thickness maps of the ice. It also means that we have a base line of data going forward that we can work from to see if climate change is affecting the ice. There has been plenty of information gathered over the past 50 years starting from the Cold War in the Arctic but nothing in the Southern oceans. This makes assessment of change around Antarctica even more difficult.”
Daniel, who hopes to return to the region in November, says it was a challenging expedition often working 18-hour days and contending with the severe Antarctic weather.
“The weather changes so quickly. One minute you will be getting hot working away and then its minus 40 wind chill and white out conditions, so there were always difficulties to deal with,” he says.
“It was amazing to be there. The highlights were seeing the wildlife like Emperor Penguins. We also went to Scott’s Hutt which was incredible to imagine what it must have been like for those explorers all those years ago.
“The King of Malaysia was also visiting Scott Base at the time. I never expected to meet the King of Malaysia, let alone in Antarctica!”
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