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Monday, 03 November 2008 14:35
ICECAP project set to probe Antarctic interiorWritten by Guest Contributor
It’s no coincidence that one of the least explored places on Earth is the deep interior of Antarctica. Most established research stations are along the coast. For a number of reasons, it can be extremely expensive to fly into the interior. Now, climate scientists are beginning to worry that a part of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet far from the coast and with a base far below sea level might be much more vulnerable to climate change than previously thought. If true, it might hold the potential to raise sea level significantly. So there is intense interest in collecting data from this remote area.
Beginning this December, the ICECAP (Investigating the Cryospheric Evolution of the Central Antarctic Plate) team will fly an upgraded World War II-era DC-3 aircraft with a suite of geophysical instruments to map the thickness of the ice sheet and measure the texture, composition, density and topography of rocks below the ice.
In the past, scientists surveying the Antarctic ice sheets relied either on heavy cargo planes with poor fuel efficiency but long range, or lighter planes with better fuel efficiency but short range. To fly lighter planes far into the interior of the continent, support planes have to fly in additional fuel from a coastal port, multiplying fuel costs several times.
With the upgraded DC-3, the ICECAP team gets a combination of efficiency and range, minimizing the project's carbon footprint at a time when high oil prices have caused federal funding agencies to scale back scientific studies in the polar regions.
"We're getting much more science done with less oil using this old airframe with modern engines," said Don Blankenship, research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin and principal investigator for ICECAP.
Scientists Probe Antarctic Glaciers for Clues to Past and Future Sea Level
Antarctic flights could help reveal what drives climate change (CNN, Oct. 29, 2008)
By Marc Airhart,
Jackson School of Geosciences
University of Texas at Austin
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