Farewell from the 2016/17 ICECAP crew

We've come to the end of our hugely successful 8th season of the science project ICECAP (Investigating the Cryospheric Evolution of the Central Antarctic Plate). ICECAP, which has been running out of Casey since 2009/10, brings together the brainpower of experts from around the world to investigate how and why the ice sheet and shelves of East Antarctica are evolving.

With the help of a fantastic crew from Kenn Borek Air (KBA), we flew in the trusty Basler (DC-3) JKB on surveys over the ice sheet and glaciers in the Casey region. The aircraft is equipped with a suite of instruments that map ice thickness, internal layers of the ice sheet and the depth and geology of the bedrock beneath the ice.

The target glaciers this year were the Shackleton Glacier, approximately 600 kilometres west of Casey station, the infamous and rapidly changing Totten Glacier, on the back doorstep of Law Dome, and the Moscow University Glacier, approximately 600 kilometres east of Casey station.

Although we didn't make it to our French friends at Dumont D'Urville, with some ideal weather conditions around Casey we managed to achieve our major science goals and more, fitting in a total of 15 flights over 74.5 flying hours and covering 21,550 kilometres.

An exciting new aspect to our work this year was the opportunity to look at ocean temperatures near glaciers experiencing rapid melting from a warming ocean using Airborne Expendable BathyThermographs (AXBTs). These instruments are jettisoned from the aircraft over the target location and are carried to the ocean surface by a small parachute. At the surface, a probe is released and measures temperature through the water column, relaying the information via a freely unwinding wire to a radio transmitter at the ocean surface. The data is then transmitted back to the aircraft.

We deployed a total of 18 AXBTs: 11 along the front of the Totten Glacier, six near the Shackleton Glacier, and one in the region of Vincennes Bay. We will be looking at the data over the coming months to figure out how masses of warm water are transported from the deeper ocean up onto the continental shelf and contribute to glacial melt.

The 2016/17 ICECAP team was a motley crew of boffins (and engineers): Dr Duncan Young (University of Texas), Dr Jason Roberts (AAD), Dr Lucas Been (University of Texas), Greg Ng (University of Texas), Dr Lenneke Jong (Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre – ACE CRC), Wei Wei (University of Texas), and Dr Felicity Graham (Gateway Partnership, University of Tasmania). Between us, we managed to marmite the station internet supplies (potentially more than once), interrupt the uninterruptible power supply to the science lab, and even 'break gravity' a couple of times (i.e. see failure of the infamous gravity meter).

As with every year, ICECAP could not be successful without the help and support from fellow Caseyites. We particularly want to thank our wonderful KBA crew Jamie, Aaron, and Lucius, AGSOs Misty, Noel, and Nathan, operations coordinator Steve, comms operators Andy, Nigel, Robyn, and Narelle, MET forecasters Lauren, Jake, and Adrian, and all who went over and above to help us with every wrinkle.

A view of the Shackleton Ice Front from a plane - broken ice in water
The Shackleton Ice Front
(Photo: F. Graham)
A view of the Totten Glacier
The Totten Glacier
(Photo: F. Graham)