Swedish expedition investigates how the Antarctic ice sheet has changed

The Swedish Antarctic research season begins 15 December, when researchers in the international research project MAGIC-DML return to Dronning Maud Land in Antarctica to investigate how ice sheet volume has changed.

Dronning Maud Land in Antarctica is almost entirely covered by the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Even though a reduction in ice sheet volume has been confirmed here, it is one of the least studied areas in Antarctica.

Underneath the ice sheet is a landscape composed of hills, valleys, mountains, and planes, similar to landscapes on other continents. When the ice sheet shrinks, this landscape becomes gradually exposed and the first parts of the landscape to emerge from the ice are the summits of the highest mountains, known as nunataks. Nunataks contain a wealth of information that can show how thick the ice sheet was during the Last Glacial Maximum about 20,000 years ago and how much it has thinned until today.

“Understanding how the ice has thinned is very important in order to understand how the entire ice sheet might change in the long run. We know very little about this when it comes to Dronning Maud Land,” says Arjen Stroeven, Professor in Physical Geography at Stockholm University, and Principal Investigator of the project.

Earth is constantly bombarded by cosmic radiation which consists of extremely energetic particles from space. The ice sheet acts as a shield, but when the ice sheet shrinks and nunataks are exposed, minerals in exposed rock, such as quartz, become enriched in cosmogenic nuclides. By measuring the concentration of such cosmogenic nuclides in erratic rocks on the slopes of nunataks, we can calculate how long these rocks have been exposed to cosmic radiation. As a result, researchers can ascertain how much, and at what rate, the volume of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet has changed.

Samples from the nunataks will, together with satellite imagery and topographic models, be utilised to test and improve ice sheet models and yield information on how the East Antarctic Ice Sheet and sea level are affected by climate change; both historically and in the future.

About the research expedition

Last season, MAGIC-DML worked in areas close to the Swedish research stations Wasa and Svea. This season, the starting point for field work is the South African research station SANAE IV. The researchers will work along a transect across the Ahlmann Ridge, the Borg Massif and the Kirwan Escarpment, a mountain area near SANAE IV. During the expedition, the researchers are provided support and expert assistance from the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat’s logistics staff, which are responsible for transport, technology, safety and healthcare etc.

The field team that will work in Antarctica during the expedition consists of:

  • Derek Fabel, University of Glasgow, Scotland, UK
  • Jennifer Newall, Stockholm University and Purdue University, USA
  • Jon Harbor, Purdue University, USA
  • Robin Blomdin, Stockholm University
  • Sarah Sams, Purdue University, USA

The expedition starts 15 December 2017 and ends 10 February 2018.

Contact information

Jan-Ola Olofsson
Communications Officer, Swedish Polar Research Secretariat
Phone: +46 8 450 25 19
E-mail: jan-ola.olofsson@polar.se