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School of Geography

River Basin Processes and Management Projects

Glacial history of the NE Antarctic Peninsula region over centennial to millennial timescales

PI: Jonathan Carrivick

Overview: When glaciers and ice sheets melt, they release large volumes of fresh water into the oceans. The release of fresh water into the oceans not only raises sea level but also influences deep sea circulation and therefore regional climate. On the Antarctic continent, the largest freshwater store on the planet, glaciers are buffered from the oceans by large ice shelves. These ice shelves form when glaciers reach sea level and spread out to form a floating or grounded shelf. Recent media coverage of Twentieth Century Antarctic ice shelf collapse has focused the world's attention on this topic and it has been suggested that many ice shelves, particularly around the Antarctic Peninsula, are now becoming unusable as a result of global temperature rise. Against this background, it is important that we understand the behaviour of Antarctic glaciers and ice shelves in the past, present and future. The aim of this project is therefore to reconstruct the outline and evolution of the Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet through the Quaternary Period (the last two million years). We will do this using a variety of different methods including mapping of glaciers and associated landforms from satellite imagery and in the field; collecting samples of rock from glacial moraines for dating with cosmogenic isotope dating; and comparing our evidence on land to previous studies from offshore cores that record past fluctuations of the Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet. Obtaining dates for the timing of periods of growth and decay of the Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet will enable us to reconstruct the former fluctuations of this ice mass and therefore to make predictions about its possible future behaviour. We will also be in a position to draw conclusions about whether or not the ice shelves surrounding the Antarctic Ice Sheet have collapsed in the past.

Start date: 1 April 2010

End date: 31 March 2013

Funder: Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Antarctic Funding Initiative (AFI)

Grant reference: NE/F012896/1

Details: NERC Grants on the Web