Climate clues in pre-Industrial Revolution Antarctic ice

30 December 2003

Ice cores to be retrieved from deep in the Antarctic ice sheet will give scientists a clearer picture of the nature of climate variability and a better understanding of weather cycles.

In a collaborative expedition between the Australian Antarctic Division and the University of Newcastle, scientists will drill 200m into the Antarctic ice sheet where they will recover climate records stretching back to hundreds of years before the Industrial Revolution.

A team of scientists and support personnel led by Dr Ian Goodwin from the University of Newcastle will travel 200 kms inland and 700 kms east of Australia's Casey station to an area known as Eastern Wilkes Land.

During their six-week expedition they will drill to between 100m and 200m to bring back ice cores that will help unravel the intricacies of climate, how it is influenced and environmental links with the circumpolar atmospheric circulation over 200 to 500 years.

For Dr Ian Goodwin it is also a step back in time. He first went to the region 20 years ago.

"Data collected from that time showed well preserved climate signals that revealed changing atmospheric circulation around the area.

"These new ice cores will allow us to make an assessment of climate change over the past two decades but much more than that we will be able to further extend our knowledge of climate variability south of Australia," Dr Goodwin said.

"We are using the ice cores to reconstruct the atmospheric circulation and air temperature over the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic region."

"We can build monthly records of climate variability over the past 500 years. The past 200 years are of particular interest because they cover a time of increasing human influence on the global atmosphere.

"We believe it is important to go back this far so that we can identify the natural weather cycles. This will help us understand our climate and, especially, rainfall variability in southern Australia."

Dr Goodwin said that based on the current climate situation it was vital to continually increase our understanding.

The expedition's work is part of the International Trans Antarctic Scientific Expedition (ITASE), a multi-national program established in 1990 to obtain records of Antarctic and sub-Antarctic climate variability from across Antarctica and in so doing create 'environmental maps' across the continent. In all, 19 nations are involved in ITASE throughout Antarctica.

The expedition will sail from Hobart today aboard the Russian ice-breaker Vasiliy Golovnin which is scheduled to depart at 5pm.