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HomeAus & NZKiwi scientists involved in drill to uncover secrets of Antarctica's past

Kiwi scientists involved in drill to uncover secrets of Antarctica’s past

'Quick read' news summary

New Zealand scientists are planning to drill nearly a kilometre through Antarctic ice and into the earth below, in a bid to answer how much warming the ice sheet can withstand. There's another catch: the ocean bed sits beneath 700 metres of ice and another 40 metres of water. Levy said the ice shelf in question, the Ross Ice Shelf, was the size of France and buttressed the West Antarctic ice sheet, slowing its flow into the ocean.

New Zealand scientists are planning to drill nearly a kilometre through Antarctic ice and into the earth below, in a bid to answer how much warming the ice sheet can withstand.

If they get past 0.6 metres into the ocean bed, they’ll already have gone deeper than anyone has before – and they want to hit 160m.

There’s another catch: the ocean bed sits beneath 700 metres of ice and another 40 metres of water.

The project is part of a multi-country collaboration to see how fast the ice sheet has melted in the past, and under what conditions.

Scientist Richard Levy said the goal was to determine how much warming the ice shelf could tolerate before it collapsed.

“It matters, of course, because as the Antarctic ice sheet starts to melt and retreat [it] drives sea level up. We’re quite concerned about just how much and how fast the Antarctic ice sheet will melt, and how it will then impact sea level rise around the world.

“Figuring out what temperature we need to keep warming below in order to save the ice shelves is really what the SWAIS-2C project is about — is it 1.C? Is it 2C? Can we push to 2.5C, and still keep those ice shelves around?

Levy said the ice shelf in question, the Ross Ice Shelf, was the size of France and buttressed the West Antarctic ice sheet, slowing its flow into the ocean.

The sediment underneath contained a history of ice-melt going back centuries. Levy said scientists could tell when the ground had been covered with ice, and when it had been covered by ocean.

“When the climate got colder in the past, we would expect the large West Antarctic Ice Sheet

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