Ice shelves in a warming world:

Filchner Ice Shelf System, Antarctica

Ice Flows is funded as part of a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) project led by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). The project aims to investigate what may happen in the near-future in the Weddell Sea region of Antarctica and the impact changes here could have on global sea-level.

Research by Hartmut Hellmer and colleagues in 20121 showed that this part of Antarctica might be subject to warmer water coming into contact with the Filchner Ice Shelf, which could lead to significant retreat of this part of the ice sheet.

The project combines fieldwork and computer modelling to investigate the relationships between changes in the atmosphere, the ocean and the ice sheet in this region. The field campaign will collect data both to improve the way the models work, and also to test their results.

Fieldwork is taking place over three years and includes: 1) hot water drilling through the ice shelf to make measurements of ocean properties beneath the ice shelf, 2) sediment coring to investigate past changes in the ice sheet, 3) radar and seismic measurements taken on the ice and from the air to measure ice thickness and basal topography. Field parties are supported from the Rothera Research Station, both in the air and via tractor-trains.

Marine sediment cores and instrumented buoys, deployed from the RV Polarstern (Alfred Wegener Institute), will capture vital information from the Antarctic continental shelf and slope.

State-of-the-art numerical models of the climate, ocean and ice sheets will then use the data collected to investigate how the ice sheet might behave in the future under different climate change scenarios.

For more info go to the project website: .

Discovering Antarctica

You may also enjoy this award-winning online learning resource produced in partnership by British Antarctic Survey, the Royal Geographical Society and the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Polar Regions Department: Discovering Antarctica.


1Hellmer, H. H., Kauker, F., Timmermann, R., Determann, J. and Rae, J. (2012), Twenty-first-century warming of a large Antarctic ice-shelf cavity by a redirected coastal current, Nature, 485, 225-228, doi:10.1038/nature11064

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