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GNS Science pair help to build new map of the Ross Ice Shelf for climate modelling - 11/11/2016

Two marine geoscientists from GNS Science are spending up to six hours each day in a US Hercules aircraft flying above Antarctica as part of an international project to produce a map of the Ross Ice Shelf and the seafloor beneath it.

C17 during flight 720 pixels

Scientists, engineers and technicians relax on the Hercules during the flight to Antarctica. Photo – supplied.

Called the Rosetta Project, it involves flying at an altitude of 1200m along grid lines spaced 10km apart  with a brace of instruments on the aircraft collecting valuable information such as radar, gravity, magnetics, and high-resolution photos.

Most of the instruments are housed in a special pod attached to the fuselage of the aircraft.

The project, in its second and final summer season, is funded by the National Science Foundation in the US and led by Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in New York. About 30 flights are scheduled between now and the end of December 2016, when the data acquisition is due to be completed.

The GNS Science data help to make a new map of the seafloor bathymetry under the ice shelf. It will have 25-times better resolution than the 30-year old map it is replacing.

Other data being collected on these flights will show the thickness of the ice shelf, which is the size of France, and the distance from the bottom of the shelf to the seafloor.

GNS just landed Ross Ice Shelf

Just Landed: Scientists arrive in Antarctica to start the Rosetta Project which will build a new map of the Ross Ice Shelf and the seafloor beneath it. Photo – supplied.

The new information from the project will help climate scientists model how fast the ice sheet will melt and break up in a warming world and this has important implications for climate change and sea-level rise.

The GNS Science staff working on the Rosetta project are Fabio Caratori Tontini and Grant O`Brien.

GNS Science became involved in the project because of its expertise in airborne geophysical surveying, having recently completed an updated airborne gravity survey for New Zealand.

The instrument Fabio and Grant are using, a dynamic gravity meter, is owned and operated by GNS Science. About the size of a dishwasher and weighing about 50kg, it can very accurately measure small changes in gravity caused by undulations in the seafloor.

Designed for use on aircraft and ships, the has a busy schedule in New Zealand and our territories. When it returns to Wellington after the Ross Ice Shelf project is finished it will go straight onto a ship for use on a marine geology research voyage in New Zealand waters.

The GNS Science meter sits inside the Hercules working along-side a similar instrument owned and operated by Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory. 

The Rosetta Project is an excellent example of how expertise developed on New Zealand projects can be translated to world leading research with international partners, according to the head of the Marine Geoscience group at GNS Science Vaughan Stagpoole.

“We always knew we could do this type of surveying, but until we took part in the New Zealand aerogravity survey, funded by Land Information New Zealand, we could not demonstrate our skills. It was the results from that project that attracted us to our international colleagues,” Dr Stagpoole said.

As well as funding from the National Science Foundation, New Zealand’s participation in this project is supported by the New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute and by funding from within GNS Science.