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FUNDING > Antarctic Glaciology

Division of Polar Programs

Julie M. Palais
jpalais@nsf.gov, (703) 292-8033
Room 755 S


13-527  Program Solicitation

Snow and ice are pervasive elements of high-latitude environmental systems and have an active role in the global environment. The glaciology program is concerned with the study of the history and dynamics of all naturally occurring forms of snow and ice, including floating ice shelves, glaciers, and continental and marine ice sheets. Program emphases include paleoenvironments from ice cores, ice dynamics, numerical modeling, glacial geology, and remote sensing of ice sheets. Some specific objectives are:

  • correlating climatic fluctuations evident in antarctic ice cores with data from arctic and lower-latitude ice cores, and integrating the ice record with the terrestrial and marine record;
  • documenting the geographic extent of climatic events noted in paleoclimatic records and the extension of the ice core time series to provide information on astronomical forcing of climate;
  • establishing more precise dating methodologies for deep ice cores;
  • determining the Cenozoic history of antarctic ice sheets and their interaction with global climate and uplift of the Transantarctic Mountains and the response of the antarctic ice sheets to the Pliocene warming;
  • investigating the physics of fast glacier flow with emphasis on processes at glacier beds;
  • investigating ice-shelf stability;
  • identifying and quantifying the feedback between ice dynamics and climate change.

These topics come together in the multidisciplinary West Antarctic Ice Sheet program (WAIS), a major initiative of the Division of Polar Programs. The program, focused in the Antarctic Glaciology Program and the Antarctic Earth Sciences Program, is designed to advance understanding of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Scientists involved in the WAIS program want to know what triggers marine ice sheet collapse and evaluate the possibility that this could happen in West Antarctica. Predicting the ice sheet's future behavior requires an understanding of its history, current state (including the nature of the bed), internal dynamics, and coupling to the current global climate.

Ice cores from Antarctica are important for determining whether the rapid climate changes recorded in Northern Hemisphere ice cores, such as those obtained from Summit, Greenland, in the Greenland Ice Sheet Project II (GISP2), are global in extent. Plans are underway to drill a deep ice core at a site on the ice divide in West Antarctica, as part of the WAISCORES program, with both thick ice and high annual accumulation. This is the only antarctic site where scientists can obtain an ice core capable of providing a long, annual resolution history of Southern Hemisphere climate in which compressed snow layers are thick enough to allow absolute dating. The WAIS Divide ice core will provide a Southern Hemisphere equivalent to the GISP2, GRIP (the European Greenland Ice Core Project), and North GRIP ice cores and will allow detailed comparison of environmental conditions between the northern and southern hemispheres.

The ice cores to be drilled as part of the WAISCORES program will complement those already under study from Byrd Station and Siple Dome in West Antarctica and Taylor Dome and Vostok Station in East Antarctica. Ice cores are unique in that they contain continuous, or nearly continuous, records of annual precipitation, atmospheric temperature and components of the atmosphere, including gases as well as soluble and insoluble aerosol particles from a variety of sources (biogenic, terrestrial, solar, marine, volcanic, anthropogenic).

Another important activity within the Antarctic Glaciology Program is the International Trans-Antarctic Scientific Expedition (ITASE), a multi-disciplinary, multi-investigator project whose broad aim is to establish how the recent atmospheric environment (climate and atmospheric composition) is represented in the upper layers of the antarctic ice sheet. Primary emphasis is placed on approximately the last 200 years of the record. This time period was chosen because it covers the onset of major anthropogenic release of combustion products to the atmosphere and the end of the Little Ice Age.

Ice cores collected under the Antarctic Glaciology Program are currently stored at the National Ice Core Laboratory (NICL). NICL, a government-owned facility for storing, curating, and studying ice cores recovered from the ice-covered regions of the world, is supported through an Interagency Cooperative Agreement with the United States Geological Survey. NICL provides NSF- and USGS-funded principal investigators and their collaborators with the capability to examine and measure ice cores while preserving the integrity of these cores in a protected environment.

Another main area of interest is determining the Cenozoic history of the antarctic ice sheet, including the uplift of the Transantarctic Mountains and its interaction with global climate (e.g., response to the Pliocene warming). Much of the glacial geological research in the Transantarctic Mountains relate to understanding the history of the ice sheet during the Pliocene, as well as more recent fluctuations during the Quaternary.

Ice Coring and Drilling Services (ICDS) at University of Wisconsin, Madison, is supported by the Division of Polar Programs to meet the drilling requirements of all of the Division of Polar Programs programs. ICDS focuses on ice drill development for NSF-supported remote field projects. Investigators who plan to request technical support from ICDS should include with their proposal a cost estimate (budget and justification) for the equipment or drilling support that would be required from ICDS if the project is funded. This information is in addition to the regular budgets included with the proposal. Investigators should contact ICDS if they have questions or need further information for a correct cost estimate. (See the Related Link Section on this page for additional information.) The Research Support Manager in Polar Programs Antarctic Infrastructure and Logistics Section, as well as the program manager to whom you are submitting your proposal, should be notified when an investigator is requesting ICDS support.

Antarctic Glaciological Data Center (National Snow and Ice Data Center)
Ice Drilling Program Office and Ice Drilling Design and Operations (IDPO-IDDO)
National Ice Core Laboratory (U.S. Geological Survey, Denver, and NSF)
NICL Science Management (University of New Hampshire)
U.S. International Trans-Antarctic Scientific Expedition (ITASE)
West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide Ice COre
WAISCORES data (Antarctic Glaciological Data Center, National Snow and Ice Data Center)

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