Posted on 01/12/2009
Penguins in the Antarctic sun
A researcher from Royal Holloway will be guaranteed a white Christmas this year as he begins his mission to Antarctica next week to uncover crucial information about climate change.
Dr James France, from the Department of Earth Sciences, at Royal Holloway, University of London, will set off on December 9 and spend five weeks living at ‘Dome C’ on top of the Antarctic plateau.
He will measure light penetration into the snow at different depths using fibre-optic probes as part of a £300,000 research enterprise, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
This new technique will uncover the photochemistry occurring within the snowpack, giving scientists unique insights into historic climate patterns.
By correlating the amount of photochemistry in the snowpack with isotopic changes of nitrogen and oxygen, the team hope to determine whether nitrate in ice-cores can be used to understand the state of the atmosphere in the past.
Dr France says, “This research is vital to helping us understand the variability of the atmosphere in the past and in predicting future climate change. The nitrate trapped in deep ice-cores, such as at ‘Dome C’, potentially could provide us with new insights into the atmosphere of the last tens of thousands of years. Understanding how our atmosphere can rapidly change is vital for making accurate climate change predictions for the future”.
He will conduct his research alongside Dr Marcus Frey, from the British Antarctic Survey, and Dr Joel Savarino, a specialist in isotope chemistry from the Laboratory of Glaciology and Geophysical Environment (LGGE) based in Grenoble, France.
Dr France faces a demanding journey. He will sail from Hobart, Tasmania, to the French base Durmont D’Urville (DDU) in Antarctica, from which he will then fly to ‘Dome C’. Once he gets there he will spend up to six hours each day working outside and will have to adjust to 24 hours of daylight and sub-zero temperatures.
Dr France says, “Dome C is one of the most inaccessible bases in the world; it’s very high up on the Antarctic Plateau, so you’re living over 3,000 metres above sea level with temperatures around -30°C. It’s tough work in the field, but without doubt a fantastic opportunity.”
He adds, “It will be strange being so far away for the whole Christmas season but I will no doubt bore people with the story of ‘how I was in Antarctica for Christmas’ for many, many years. I am really looking forward to the sense of adventure, and being part of an international team of genuinely world class scientists.”
Royal Holloway’s renowned Department of Earth Sciences, ranked top ten in the UK by both the 2008 RAE and the National Student Survey, brings together leading experts across the field to embark on pioneering research enterprises. One such expedition occurred this April, when Dr France visited Alaska with PhD student Holly Reay and Dr Martin King to explore how the sea ice and snow interact with the atmosphere.