Researchers to explore uncharted territory in Antarctica

  • 06/11/2015
The researchers head off to Antarctica today (file)
The researchers head off to Antarctica today (file)

University of Otago researchers are about to drive across uncharted territory in Antarctica and unlike the early explorers, will have a cameraman and social media following.

As part of research into climate change, the 12 researchers and crew will fly to Scott Base today and then a few days later head 350km out into the centre of the largely unexplored Ross Ice Shelf.

Professor Christina Hulbe, who heads the four-year programme, says the team will follow the United States' traverse route towards the South Pole.

"Then they turn left into uncharted territory," she said.

Driving tracked vehicles and snowmobiles, using crevasse-detecting radar, is the only practical way to get their equipment to the site, she said.

A National Geographic TV cameraman will film the team as part of a documentary series on Antarctic logistics. The expedition team will have internet access and will use the Instagram account the_ross_ice_shelf_programme to post photos of their work.

A "seismic thumper" will help create acoustic-based imaging of the seafloor and its sediment layers. Deep sounding radar will also be used to study the ice at the base of the shelf and the underlying ocean.

They will also begin work on a snow airstrip that will allow and easier access to the site next year.

Next spring they will use a Victoria University-built hot water drill to bore through the ice.

In the following years the researchers will undertake similar studies at another site in the east of the Ross Ice Shelf.

Analysing the seafloor sediment will allow the researchers to reconstruct the ice shelf's history since the last ice age.

"We need to find out more about the actual physical processes and the rates at which they acted in the past. That knowledge is one of the keys to making better projections of future change."