Collaborative Research in IPY: Abrupt Environmental Change in the Larsen Ice Shelf System, a Multidisciplinary Approach - Marine and Quaternary Geosciences

Project Details



This award supports a research cruise to perform geologic studies in the area under and surrounding the former Larsen B ice shelf, on the Antarctic Peninsula. The ice shelf's disintegration in 2002 coupled with the unique marine geology of the area make it possible to understand the conditions leading to ice shelf collapse. Bellwethers of climate change that reflect both oceanographic and atmospheric conditions, ice shelves also hold back glacial flow in key areas of the polar regions. Their collapse results in glacial surging and could cause rapid rise in global sea levels. This project characterizes the Larsen ice shelf's history and conditions leading to its collapse by determining: 1) the size of the Larsen B during warmer climates and higher sea levels back to the Eemian interglacial, 125,000 years ago; 2) the configuration of the Antarctic Peninsula ice sheet during the LGM and its subsequent retreat; 3) the causes of the Larsen B's stability through the Holocene, during which other shelves have come and gone; 4) the controls on the dynamics of ice shelf margins, especially the roles of surface melting and oceanic processes, and 5) the changes in sediment flux, both biogenic and lithogenic, after large ice shelf breakup.

The broader impacts include graduate and undergraduate education through research projects and workshops; outreach to the general public through a television documentary and websites, and international collaboration with scientists from Belgium, Spain, Argentina, Canada, Germany and the UK. The work also has important societal relevance. Improving our understanding of how ice shelves behave in a warming world will improve models of sea level rise.

The project is supported under NSF's International Polar Year (IPY) research emphasis area on 'Understanding Environmental Change in Polar Regions'.

Effective start/end date1/10/0730/09/14


  • National Science Foundation: $247,459.00


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