Heading South – the Mass2Ant Project

Today (Tuesday 14th of November 2017), a team of Belgian researchers is heading south for a 1-month expedition to Antarctica. They will investigate recent climate change in East Antarctica, in the frame of the project Mass2Ant.

The Mass2Ant project

Mass2Ant (East Antarctic surface mass balance in the Anthropocene: observations and multiscale modelling) is an international collaboration led by the UCL (Hugues Goosse) and involving the ULB (Jean-Louis Tison), the Royal Meteorological Institute (Stéphane Vannitsem), the University of Colorado Boulder (Jan Lenaerts) and TU Delft (Stefaan Lhermitte). The Mass2Ant project aims at better understanding how local processes influence the surface mass balance (net ice accumulation) and its variability in the Princess Ragnhild Coast region, in East Antarctica. Scientists will also investigate whether these local processes represent the regional trends and collect observations to refine modelled surface mass balance of East Antarctica.

More specifically, the project focuses on 3 ice rises: the Derwael Ice Rise, a feature informally known as the FranKenny Ice Rise and the western promontory. An ice rise is a bump on the seabed which locally regrounds the ice while the ice in its surroundings floats. Despite their relative small size (their diameter does not exceed 20-30 km) ice rises have been found to play a critical role on the Antarctic ice sheet stability. Ice rises represent an ideal location for high resolution ice core drilling as they offer precious insights of past climatic conditions. Snow accumulates in their centre and gets compacted into ice under the pressure of overlying layers. During this process, air is trapped and isolated from the atmosphere.

The Derwael Ice Rise has already been extensively studied and has evidenced an increase in snow precipitation in the Princess Ragnhild coast, due to warming temperatures (Philippe et al, 2014). The Mass2Ant project will perform the same measurements on the FranKenny Ice Rise (this campaign) and on the western promontory (next year) to validate what has been observed at the Derwael Ice Rise.

Location of the FranKenny Ice Rise (blue star) and the Western Promontory (yellow star), north of the Princess Elisabeth station (courtesy of Frank Pattyn and Brice van Liefferinge).

The 2017 field campaign

The 2017 expedition was supposed to take place in 2016, but had to be postponed to this year as the station was closed last season. Leaving Belgium on 14th of November, the team should arrive on the 20th of November at the Belgian station Princess Elisabeth. The scientists will be flying towards Cape Town in South Africa where they will board a plane that will get them to Novo Runway, Antarctica. And then another plane will bring them to the Belgian station. The team will not be staying at the station for long. Just the time to gather the material and they will travel 200 km north to establish their camp at the coast on the FranKenny Ice Rise.

The scientists will first have to survey the ice rise with geophysical instruments (i) to locate the point where ice is the thickest (thanks to Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS)) and (ii) to obtain snow/ice distribution profile (with high frequency radar). Then, scientists can start drilling their ice cores, which they can only extract by 1-1.5 m pieces. A first set of measurements will be carried out directly after core extraction, such as temperature, dimensions and description. Then the cores will be kept inside freezers, as air temperature can be positive during summer in Antarctica, and shipped to Belgium for more thorough lab analyses. A real time weather station will be also installed to measure all the parameters of the radiative balance and the melting.

Written by Caroline Jacques.

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