November 6, 2007

Scientists to Study Antarctica’s Geology

ST. LOUIS -- A group of Washington University researchers will head to Antarctica later this month to learn more about the continent's geologic origins.

The group will install 10 seismographs that will provide data to help other scientists build better climate change models, Douglas Wiens, a Washington University professor and team leader said.

"We have no idea what's beneath the ice," Wiens told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "No one has even taken any rock samples. It's thought that when the Earth's climate started to cool millions of years ago, the first glaciers in the world formed in these mountains."

The team's base camp will be built 250 miles north of the South Pole, in a region of Antarctica that has only been explored by a Russian team 50 years ago and last year by a Chinese group.

The Washington University scientists will fly from St. Louis to Christchurch, New Zealand, where they will be outfitted with cold weather gear. From there, they will fly to the McMurdo Station, the U.S.-run Antarctica research center. Then, they will fly on a prop plane to a South Pole base camp and adjust to the altitude before arriving at their camp, another 400 miles away.

The unchartered territory will be enveloped in daylight during the few weeks they're there.

The seismographs will help researchers understand the motion of the continent's ice streams, giant rivers of ice that can be up to 80 miles wide.

The flow of the ice streams are expected to provide clues about the rocks beneath.

The team will return to the icy continent next year to collect the seismographs and install additional devices.


Information from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,