Durham University scientist set for Antarctica

A scientist from a North East university is heading to the Antarctic to carry out vital research on melting glaciers

Photo from the British Antartic Survey, Marguerite Bay. Professor Mike Bentley (inset)
Photo from the British Antartic Survey, Marguerite Bay. Professor Mike Bentley (inset)

A scientist from a North East university is heading to the Antarctic to carry out vital research on melting glaciers.

Professor Mike Bentley from the Department of Geography at Durham University will be carrying out the mission as part of a team of British scientists to discover why the Pine Island Glacier on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has been losing ice.

The research will understand the impact on the future sea level rise.

Last night, Professor Bentley, who is a co-investigator on the iStar D project, explained his mission.

He said: “The Pine Island Glacier is currently the single biggest contributor to sea level rise from the Antarctic Ice Sheet. We really need to find out if ice loss will carry on increasing at a faster and faster rate, whether it will slow down or go back to equilibrium.

“If we can establish exactly how much ice loss there is and what is causing it, then we can make more accurate predictions about future sea level rise.”

Starting in November this year the iSTAR science programme will mount four projects focused on finding out what’s causing the rapid changes observed in the Amundsen Sea region of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Using state-of-the-art technologies, science teams will measure changes to the flow and thickness of glaciers and investigate the role that the ocean plays in transporting warm water beneath ice shelves.

And Professor Bentley will be part of the first group of scientists departing the UK for Antarctica in December to spend up to 10 weeks travelling 600 miles across the ice sheet by tractor-traverse, and visiting remote locations by ski-equipped aircraft.

They will use ground-based radar and seismic technologies to map the bed beneath Pine Island Glacier, as well as installing GPS receivers and collecting samples to measure ice sheet change.

Professor Bentley said: “Prior to the advent of satellites, very little was known about the rates at which ice sheets would respond to climate change. We now have those measurements of ice sheet change but they need to be backed-up by careful ground-based measurements before we can precisely assess the amount of ice being lost to the ocean. “It is those measurements that the team are going to undertake over the next two field seasons on the Pine Island Glacier.”

Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet are losing ice at a faster rate than they are being replenished which affects sea level all over the world.

The iStar programme is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and involves eleven UK Universities along with the British Antarctic Survey.

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