Recent data from NSF-funded research in both Greenland and Antarctica demonstrate that fossil-fuel related emissions of both methane and ethane, two of the most abundant hydrocarbons in the atmosphere, declined at the end of the 20th century. Learn more in this news release.
Credit: National Science Foundation
Biogeochemists have found evidence linking "Snowball Earth" glacial events to the rise of early animals. The controversial Snowball Earth hypothesis posits that, on several occasions, the Earth was covered from pole to pole by a thick sheet of ice lasting millions of years. Read more in this news release.
Credit: Lyons Lab, UC-Riverside
Results from a research expedition in Antarctic waters may provide critical clues to understanding one of the most dramatic periods of climate change in Earth's history. Some 53 million years ago, Antarctica was a warm, sub-tropical environment. Then suddenly, the continent's lush environment transitioned into its modern icy realm. Find out more in this news release.
Credit: John Beck, IODP/TAMU
The vast majority of the world's glaciers are retreating as the planet gets warmer. But a few, including glaciers south of the equator in South America and New Zealand, are inching forward. Read more in this news release.
Credit: George Denton
A lone granite boulder found against all odds high atop a glacier in Antarctica may provide additional key evidence to support a theory that parts of the southernmost continent once were connected to North America hundreds of millions of years ago. Read more in this news release.
Credit: John Goodge / University of Minnesota-Duluth
Scientific research and the operational support of that research are the principal activities supported by the United States government in Antarctica. The goals are to expand fundamental knowledge of the region, to foster research on global and regional problems of current scientific importance, and to use the region as a platform from which to support research. For projects involving fieldwork, the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) supports only that research that can be done exclusively in Antarctica or that can be done best from Antarctica. The program also supports analytical research performed at home organizations. NSF funds and manages the USAP. The Division of Antarctic Sciences (ANT) is one of two science divisions in NSF's Office of Polar Programs.
A five-nation scientific team has published evidence that even a slight rise in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, one of the gases that drives global warming, affects the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). The research is based on investigations of a 1,280-meter (4,100-foot)-long sedimentary rock core taken from beneath the sea floor under Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf during the first project of the ANDRILL (ANtarctic geological DRILLing) research program--the McMurdo Ice Shelf (MIS) Project.
During the last prolonged warm spell on Earth, the oceans were at least four meters - and possibly as much as 6.5 meters, or about 20 feet--higher than they are now. Where did all that extra water come from? Mainly from melting ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica, scientists believed.
October 31, 2011
Researchers brave bone chilling cold to solve geologic mysteries
Geologist John Goodge looks for clues about Antarctica's past in the 2 percent of the continent that is not covered in ice!
The University of Minnesota-Duluth professor has been visiting Antarctica since 1985, finding and studying rocks that help tell the story of how this desolate continent has formed and changed over time.
In late 2010 and early 2011, he spent several weeks in the field, with other scientists, visiting a dozen sites along 1,200 miles of mountains.
"What we're doing is finding places along the Transantarctic Mountains and we are sampling those to pick up pieces of rock that can, hopefully, give us some examples of what's further under the ice sheet," he says.
Goodge and his colleagues are supported by the U.S. Antarctic Program, which is managed by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
The team first spent about three weeks preparing for its fieldwork at McMurdo Station, the main U.S. research facility in Antarctica.
Goodge says the "Antarctic experience" is a combination of the starkness of the terrain and the camaraderie of co-workers.
"In Antarctica, you have chances to sit down and socialize in a setting that you might not otherwise have so it's really fun. I meet people that are working on meteorology, sending weather balloons up, and people that study Antarctic fish that make their own antifreezes, and just all kinds of neat things," he says.
Long before touching down on the ice, scientists spend months determining what would likely be the most productive sites. They use a combination of satellite imagery and topographic maps. U.S. Geological Survey photos taken in the 1950s and 60s are now digitally available, helping pinpoint study sites. Goodge says getting the right experts together is also critical.
"I learned a long time ago that it is rewarding to pick a team of people who bring different expertise to what you're doing, and so I see myself as kind of the hub in a spoked wheel of people doing different things," he says.
His team included a certified guide and mountaineer, a graduate student from South Africa, an isotope geochemist, and a geochronologist.
They travelled in helicopters to get to sites within a couple hundred miles of McMurdo, and planes to get to sites located further away.
The rocks they collect give clues about our planet and what it was like before the seven continents we know now.
"When we think about Earth's history and tectonics, we come to understand that there have been several periods in history where we think there have been supercontinents; amalgamations of most, if not all the continents we know today. Pangea is the latest one; it was around 250 million years ago. Before Pangea assembled, there was another supercontinent that most people agree was in existence 500 million years ago, Gondwana," explains Goodge.
And another piece of very ancient history: "It turns out there are rocks and glacial deposits that we've been finding that actually seem to confirm the idea that Antarctica and North America would have been neighbors at one time!" says Goodge.
The team collected about 2,500 pounds of rock material, filling 30 sturdy wooden boxes.
Opening them up to analyze them, "is like having Christmas time back here," says Goodge jokingly.
"This particular rock, this granite, is loaded with the mineral zircon, which is good for us because zircon's structure has the ability to take up small amounts of uranium, which then decays naturally to isotopes of lead, which we can use as a clock," he explains, while holding up a rock from his latest trip. "We can analyze the zircon to tell how old this rock was when it formed. And also the isotope composition can tell us about the ancestry of the granite itself."
According to Goodge, Antarctica may not seem like it is very active, but in fact it is a dynamic environment. And it is an important place to study the health of the planet--including the impact of global climate change on ice sheet stability.
"And, if we can understand what's happened in the past, we have at least a way or a framework to be able to say what might happen in the future and then, of course, with respect to climate change, the question is what extra role do humans and their activity play in tweaking the natural system off of whatever cycles it may have already been on?" notes Goodge.
While he has traveled there many times, Goodge says the Antarctic environment is still exciting and unpredictable.
"One of the interesting things about being in Antarctica is that you have no sense of scale. If you're out hiking in the mountains in the western United States, you can see trees and you can see roads, and so you have a sense of how far things are and how big things really are. But in Antarctica, it's just an expanse of white, and it's rolling, and it might even be mountainous and there might be a lot of glaciers. It's beautiful scenery and yet, the distances are so deceiving. You feel very small, and it's fun to just witness the things that are going on around you," he says.
For Goodge, this frozen landscape is full of ancient clues just waiting to be interpreted.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.