Research

Uncovering the Icy Secrets of Antarctica

Uncovering the Icy Secrets of Antarctica

Anticipating the response of the Antarctic ice sheet to future climate change is critical to our planet’s survival. The melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet alone could lead to a worldwide rise in sea level of three metres.

Dr Neil Ross, a lecturer in physical geography at Newcastle University, is among a team of UK experts investigating this topic. They are working to build up an accurate picture of the ice sheet and the landscape beneath to predict how it might behave in a warmer world.

Dr Ross and his team carried out a major airborne geophysical survey of a previously little studied part of the West Antarctic ice sheet. The study revealed a huge ancient valley – deeper than the Grand Canyon – hidden beneath the ice.

Antartica landscape
Photo of Dr Neil Ross in Antarctica

Helping to predict and prevent sea level rise

The findings of the survey, published in the Geological Society of America Bulletin, provided an unprecedented insight into the extent, thickness and behaviour of an ancient icefield.

This was formed when the climate of West Antarctica was much warmer than it is today. This subglacial landscape indicates from where, and how, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet originated and grew.

It provides important clues as to the most probable extent of ice in West Antarctica in a future, warmer world.

Dr Ross said: “As well as being pure exploratory discovery science, these investigations have important societal impact.

They help to improve our understanding of the future response of the Antarctic ice sheet to a changing climate, and therefore help us to project, adapt to, and mitigate future sea level rise across the world.”

Dr Neil Ross
Photo of Dr Ross in Antarctica

Professor Martin Siegert, Co-Director of the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London said "Dr Neil Ross has made several key advances in knowledge of the Antarctic ice sheet, including the idea that a whole sector of the West Antarctic ice sheet is far more prone to change than previously thought.” 

 

Detailed mapping

The survey team’s data also made a major contribution to a large-scale international Antarctic mapping project led by the British Antarctic Survey.

This led to the discovery that the continent contains more ice than previously thought.

Sixty scientists from institutions in 35 countries were involved to create the most detailed map of what lies beneath Antarctica's ice sheets. They used data collected from:

  • ice penetrating radar measurements
  • seismic techniques
  • satellite readings
  • cartographic data

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Contact Information

Dr Neil Ross
Email: neil.ross@ncl.ac.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)191 208 5111