NZ scientists drill 700 metres into Antarctic ice to study climate change

A team of New Zealand scientists has travelled to the frigid waters of the Ross Sea, off the coast of Antarctica, to study climate change.

Their work is groundbreaking, literally, as they drill into the sea bed, to recover secrets held in the rock for 20 million years.

For two months, the JOIDES Resolution has been in the Ross Sea, studying the fragile West Antarctic ice sheet. 

"We want to understand how much of that ice is actually capable of melting," Victoria University geologist Robert McKay says.

Thirty scientists from 13 countries, including Prof McKay, are drilling 700 metres down into the rock sea bed.  

They brought back 200 samples that reveal how the planet's climate has changed over millions of years. 

The scientists are trying to understand what happened to the ice sheet 3 million years ago, in period of natural global warming which gives them clues to today's global warming. 

"We know that it's happened before. We know that from just simple physics that if you raise greenhouse gas concentrations, the temperature will go up," Prof McKay said.

"What we want to know is how much it will go up." 

That change in ocean temperature could see the ice sheet collapse, leading to potentially devastating sea level rise. 

The scientists are looking into the past, to predict our future at the bottom of the world.