Scientists set sail for Antarctic glacier

By AG Staff with AAP 4 January 2011
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A team of Australian scientists will study the impacts of a collision between a glacier and an iceberg.

A COLLISION BETWEEN A massive iceberg and an Antarctic glacier will reveal a great deal about the frozen continent, scientists say.

A team of 40 scientists, departed Hobart today for the Mertz Glacier, which was hit by a 97-kilometre long glacier last year, breaking off a 78-kilometre piece.

Australian Antarctic Division acting chief scientist Martin Riddle says the collision, known as a “calving”, gave scientists a rare insight into the bottom of the ocean. “The calving of the iceberg has exposed parts of the seabed which haven’t been available for study in our lifetimes,” he says.

“It’s a biological hotspot supporting everything from microscopic photoplankton, right up to seals and whales. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to get in there.”

Martin says the aim of the expedition was to shed new light on the history of Antarctica. “What we’re hoping to see is new life which will have skeletons laid down in the sediments,” he says. “If we find these… we’ll be able to go back and determine when the area was covered by ice and when it was free.

“That will give us indications of how the climate of the Antarctic has changed over hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of years,” he adds.

The team is equipped with cameras which work 3,000 metres under the sea, as well as specially designed brackets to protect the equipment in deep sea canyons. They will also take measurements of carbon dioxide stored in the ocean.