Shackleton Centenary Expedition

Professor David Drewry: Climate Change July 10 2007

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.

Cross section of the East Antarctic Ice sheet

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.

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