ICECAP returns to Casey

The 2009-10 ICECAP team standing in front of the Basler aircraft
The 2009-10 ICECAP team. (Photo: Todor Iolovski)
Map of ICECAP flight tracks for the past two Antarctic seasons
The ICECAP project (‘Investigating the Cryospheric Evolution of the Central Antarctic Plate’) returned to Casey in December 2009 for the second of three field seasons. The suite of instruments on the Basler aircraft enables us to explore the bedrock topography and geology, conditions at the bottom of the ice sheet, and layer structures within the ice.

The first season, which had mapped the Aurora Subglacial Basin and Totten Glacier on a broad scale, revealed that much of this region of the ice sheet sits on bedrock far below sea level (Australian Antarctic Magazine 17: 24, 2009). Taken together with observations that the lower reaches of the Totten Glacier is losing ice, this suggests the ice sheet in this region is potentially more sensitive to higher ocean temperatures than previously expected.  Accordingly, the 2009–10 season focussed on surveys over the trunk of the Totten Glacier, with additional flights over the Denman Glacier and several long-range flights east of Casey, to extend the broad-scale exploration of the first season.

A short stay at Casey, between campaigns at McMurdo and Dumont d’Urville stations, achieved nine flights in 14 days, covering 17 000 km. The total for the season was 38 flights and 62 000 km surveyed.

The 2009–10 field season also marked ICECAP’s participation in NASA’s Operation ICE Bridge; adding a scanning, photon-counting LIDAR (light detection and ranging instrument) to the existing instrument package. ICE Bridge work involved flying along tracks previously surveyed by NASA’s ICESat altimeter satellite, to continue monitoring changes in the ice sheet elevation until ICESat-II is launched.

The Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC) has funded 20 flights out of Casey for the 2010–11 field season, totalling about 40 000 km of data, during December and January, with a short interval of operations at Dumont d’Urville. ICECAP flies at night to minimize solar magnetic noise on its magnetometer instruments, which increases the hectic pace of station life. Such major aerial surveys rely on the participation of many people, especially for air-ground support, communications, and weather forecasting. As such, ICECAP involves scientists from the ACE CRC, the Australian Antarctic Division, Laboratoire d'Etudes en Géophysique et Océanographie Spatiales (LEGOS), the universities of Edinburgh, Exeter and Texas at Austin, with logistics support from the Australian Antarctic Division, United States Antarctic Program and Institut Paul Émile Victor.

ACE CRC and Australian Antarctic Division

More information

D. Fox (2010). Could East Antarctica Be Headed for Big Melt? Science 328(5986), pp 1630-1631, doi: 10.1126/science.328.5986.1630

The ICECAP team in the top photo (L-R): Dean Emberley (pilot, Kenn Borek Air), Jamin Greenbaum (Texas), Jorge Alvarez (Texas), Andrew Wright (Edinburgh), Duncan Young (Texas), Young Gim (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory), Dave Meyer (engineer, KBA), Noel Paten (Australian Antarctic Division), Ray Cameron (pilot, KBA). (Not pictured – Glenn Hyland of the Antarctic Division). The red antennas of the ice penetrating radar can be seen on one of the wings.