As the climate of our planet changes in response to warming from the increase in "greenhouse" gases in the atmosphere, the polar regions are highly vulnerable.
This is because the circulation of the atmosphere, driven by the difference in solar radiation received at the tropics from the poles, transfers the increased heat northwards and southwards.
The polar regions will, therefore, warm more than other parts of the planet and will be the first to signal important changes - which they are already displaying.
In Antarctica changes in the Southern Ocean (circulation patterns, temperature and salinity) and in the atmosphere (temperature and precipitation) are impacting the ice shelves, which lie at sea level.
In the Antarctic Peninsula there has already been significant disintegration of large ice shelves such as the Wordie and Larsen. The Ross Ice Shelf is colder and more "robust" but changes are already being detected in this important ice body. What is happening inland on the Beardmore Glacier and further in to the mass of East Antarctica?
To assist with these questions and to understand better the dynamics of the Beardmore Glacier so that future changes can be documented the Shackleton party will take ice samples along the glacier and in the upper reaches of its drainage basin. Such work is only made possible by the presence of "blue" ice zones on the glacier surface.
This is the third of six articles by Professor Drewry. Click here for the next installment.
These are perennial areas where the cold, strong winds blowing down the glacier from the interior ice sheet constantly remove surface snow exposing bare ice. The winds also cause the bare glacier ice to evaporate (technically to sublimate as no melting is involved).
Over time this loss of ice at the surface exposes deeper ice layers that have had an origin much further inland and at much higher elevations. As the chemical isotopes of oxygen contained within the frozen molecules of water are determined mostly by temperature and hence altitude, they can be used to locate the approximate origin of the ice, initially as snow, on the steadily rising inland ice sheet.
The isotope measurements made on samples collected by the expedition from the "blue" ice areas will be compared with various models of the flow of the glacier and these will assist with understanding its behaviour and how quickly and in what ways it may be responding to any climate changes.
This is the fourth of six articles by Professor Drewry. Click here for the next installment.
Clicking on the picture above will take you to the Victoria Museum in Australia. They have one of the original pulks used in the 1908 Nimrod expedition.
Here's a letter from one of our supporters. The Rt. Hon. Tessa Jowell MP is the Minister for the Olympics and London, and is also MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, the constituency of Shackleton's school, Dulwich College.
"I am proud to offer my support for such a bold and exciting venture. The family links between the original expedition of 1908/09 and the current team a century later make it a unique mission, and I hope that they are successful in achieving their aims.
The Olympic Games presents a unique challenge to athletes which is so similar to the challenges to which Shackleton so magnificently rose. Watching people challenge their limits and surpassing them is both laudable and compelling, and offers a useful wider lesson to us all to keep challenging ourselves.
I wish all those involved in the expedition every success."
With all best wishes,
Rt Hon. Tessa Jowell
Minister for the Olympics and London
Member of Parliament for Dulwich and West Norwood
The Antarctic is much in the news these days, mainly because of what the Polar icecap tells us about global warming. Both Poles are the canaries in the coalmine of climate science: the planet's own early-warning system.
In part, our job is to keep people paying attention.
That's why we're happy to announce that the Matrix Shackleton Centenary Expedition is backed by Climate Care who are a pioneering environmental company from Oxford. They've agreed to entirely offset the carbon emissions of the SCE (it takes a lot of fuel to get to our starting point) and make sure our whole trip is 100% carbon-neutral.
What does carbon-neutral actually mean?
Its like this: every time you take a flight, the plane emits some CO2. Every time your business swiches on a lightbulb, the power company down the road emits some more CO2. Climate Care work out exactly how much C02 you or your business are emitting, then go and fund projects that make emissions reductions, for example planting sufficient trees to offset the damage. The result: a balance. You, me and Nature come out on top.
For each project Climate Care engage a third party to write a report for them at the beginning of the project. This sets out what the emissions were before the project ('the baseline') and what the emissions are with the project. One minus the other gives the expected annual emissions reductions. The report also covers issues such as additionality.
Climate Care then commission ongoing monitoring of the project, to ensure that the expected emissions reductions are being made.
In our case, we'll be generating a lot more C02 than if we'd stayed at home, so Climate Care will underwrite the cost of restoring part of a forest in Uganda to offset that amount.
Everybody needs to do their bit, including Polar explorers.
We're very grateful to have their support.
Learn more at climatecare.org
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Sir Ernest Shackleton is widely known as one of the most inspirational leaders of the twentieth century. The Shackleton Foundation is a new charitable trust.
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