Geosciences Researchers on Two-Month Deep-Sea Drilling Expedition to Antarctica

Weekly reports and images will be posted online
At sea: From left: Mark Leckie, Benjamin Keisling and Molly Patterson, a former UMass Amherst geosciences post-doc, now assistant professor at SUNY Binghamton.
South of New Zealand. From left: Mark Leckie, Benjamin Keisling and Molly Patterson, a former geosciences post-doc, now assistant professor at SUNY Binghamton.

Professor Mark Leckie and doctoral candidate Benjamin Keisling of the geosciences department have embarked on a two-month expedition aboard the drill ship JOIDES Resolution to the Ross Sea of Antarctica, south of New Zealand, where they will gather data on past climate and oceanic changes.

The expedition, organized through the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP), will post weekly reports and images on the IODP website. The ship will return to Lyttelton, New Zealand on March 8.

The ship will be guided into the Ross Sea by the ice breaker Nathaniel Palmer, which will ensure safe passage through a zone of icebergs and sea-ice. Drilling operations will be conducted in an area of the Ross Sea that is already free of sea ice (polynya) north of the Ross Ice Shelf, the largest floating ice shelf in Antarctica.

The UMass Amherst researchers and colleagues will consider data from an anticipated six geologic drill sites to investigate how the Ross Sea and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet have evolved in relation to climatic and oceanic changes. The region’s sensitivity to changes in ocean temperature and sea level make it a valuable source of data about how climatic and oceanic changes have historically affected ice sheets. The history of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has important implications for the projection of sea-level rise on U.S. coastlines.

“Most of the ice shelves around the nearby Antarctic Peninsula have collapsed over the past decade. So, change is happening fast. This expedition is important for understanding rates of climate change in the past so we can better predict our future, especially sea level rise,” said Julie Brigham-Grette, department head of geosciences.

The science party consists of a mix of veterans of Antarctic science, early career faculty and graduate students representing 13 countries. IODP Expedition 374 is the first of several to return to Antarctic waters to understand the response of the East and West Antarctic ice sheets to times of past global warmth.

“Our home planet is warming rapidly, and one of our greatest challenges is understanding the processes and rates of ice sheet collapse,” said Leckie, a veteran of both Antarctic science and scientific ocean drilling. “This drilling expedition will provide important new information about the sensitivity of the West Antarctic ice sheet to global climate changes of the past 20 million years, which, combined with modeling, may better inform us about what we might expect in the coming decades.”