Aurora Basin: drilling ice cores in the heart of Antarctica

Aurora Basin: ice core science

Video transcript

The Aurora Basin project is an ice core drilling project where we expect to get an ice core which covers the last 2000 years. This is a very important time in the Earth’s climate history and currently we have a lack of data covering this period from Antarctica.

My name is Dr Mark Curran and I am an ice core research scientist with the Australian Antarctic Division.

The Aurora Basin project has been about seven years in planning and it’s the culmination of a lot of efforts by a range of scientists and logistics personnel here in Australia and overseas.

Aurora Basin is situated 550km inland from Casey station in East Antarctica. We are very excited about the science that will be coming out from the project and there is a level of anticipation to get to this region and establish a remote ice core drilling camp.

The initial party to Aurora Basin will go via traverse from the French station Dumont D’Urville. This will take about 15 days. When they arrive on the site there will be three members of the Australian program and the team will establish a camp at Aurora Basin. A ski way will then be groomed and this will allow the Australian program to bring in their plane and the rest of the people from Casey Station into the Aurora Basin camp.

Two of the biggest challenges that we will face are the altitude and the temperature. It is a high altitude site and therefore once people arrive on site they will have to rest for a couple of days before they start their work. In terms of the temperature on the site we expect average daily temperatures of −25°C which will be very testing for both the people and the equipment that we use.

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Map of the Aurora Basin site showing the traverse route from Dumont d'Urville station.
Map of the Aurora Basin site showing the 1300km traverse route from Dumont d'Urville station. (Map: AADC)
Dr Mark Curran processes an ice core at Law Dome.

Follow Mana Inoue’s blog about life in the Aurora Basin field camp.

Read the daily ‘sitreps' from the field.

An international team of scientists will drill a 2000 to 3000 year ice core climate record at Aurora Basin in east Antarctica this summer.

Over six weeks, between December 2013 and January 2014, some 24 scientists, in two field teams, will drill a 400 metre-long ice core at the remote site. The ice core will fill a major gap in an array of 2000 year ice core climate records distributed across Antarctica.

Two shorter cores of about 120 m and covering the last 1000 years will also be drilled for additional studies on climate and ice properties. Ancient air samples will be extracted from the boreholes of these two shorter cores, as well as from bubbles trapped in the ice cores, to look at changes in atmospheric composition over time.

Dr Mark Curran, from the Australian Antarctic Division, is the Science Leader for the project. He says the ice cores will enable the scientific team to discern annual climate records before and during the industrial era, for the first time. They will also help scientists identify regional climate linkages between the Antarctic and Australian climate.

Learn more about the project in science and logistics and the video below.

Follow ice core scientist Dr Tas van Ommen’s personal traverse blog (external link), as he journey's 1300 km from Dumont d'Urville to Aurora Basin to deliver equipment to the ice coring campsite.