Swansea glaciologists head to Antarctica to investigate ice shelf melt

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A team of glaciologists from Swansea University fly to Antarctica this week to study the phenomenon of large melt lakes that have been forming on the world’s fourth largest ice shelf.

Dr. Suzanne Bevan from the Department of Geography will be travelling with team members Adam Booth and Heidi Sevestre to join colleagues from Aberystwyth University as part of project MIDAS (impacts of Melt on Ice shelf Dynamics and Stability). The team will be blogging from Antarctica at http://www.projectmidas.org/ and you can follow their progress on Twitter (@MIDASOnIce).

This is the second of two such project expeditions, the first of which in 2014 discovered frozen melt lakes up to 45m deep.

Ice shelves are permanent extensions of an ice sheet, several hundred metres thick, which float on the ocean fringing Antarctica.

Covering an area two and half times the size of Wales, the Larsen C Ice Shelf is the largest on the Antarctic Peninsula. Following the disintegration of its smaller neighbours, Larsen A in 1995 and Larsen B in 2002, scientists have been keenly studying Larsen C for signs of change. The formation of surface lakes is believed to have played a part in former ice shelf collapses.

Dr Bevan and the team will use ice-penetrating radar to investigate the internal layering of the ice shelf. Professor Hubbard from Aberystwyth University will drill into the ice to observe the melt layers directly and install temperature monitoring equipment. The scientists hope to determine whether the melt lakes are a recent phenomenon, and to identify the effects they are having on the ice shelf’s stability. Drilling into the ice should provide the team with data extending back over 150 years.

The team leave the UK on October 19, and are scheduled to return just before Christmas. They will work closely with the British Antarctic Survey who provide logistical support for British science in Antarctica.

Speaking ahead of the expedition, Dr Bevan said “This area of Antarctica is one of the fastest warming places on Earth, but there still haven’t been many studies of conditions on the surface. The data we collect should help us understand how the climate of this region has changed, and how the ice shelf is likely to respond in the future”.

The MIDAS project is led by Professors Adrian Luckman of Swansea University and Bryn Hubbard of Aberystwyth University and was awarded £900,000 of funding from the Natural Environment Research Council. The study is supported by the Climate Change Consortium for Wales (C3W).

Department of Geography at Swansea University:  In the latest Research Excellence Framework (REF), Geography’s research at Swansea was ranked 6th in the UK for research impact and 11th in the UK for research environment.  The Department hosts a large community of postgraduate researchers studying PhD degrees, and runs one year MSc courses. Geography at Swansea is top in the UK with 100% student satisfaction (National Student Survey 2014). For more information go to http://www.swansea.ac.uk/geography/undergraduate 

MIDAS pitching camp


The MIDAS field team at camp on Larsen C Ice Shelf in 2014.

MIDAS drill

The MIDAS team drilling on Larsen C in 2014.

MIDAS  sunset





Midnight sun at the MIDAS field camp in 2014.

MIDAS moving camp

The MIDAS team moving camp by snowmobile in 2014.