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Antarctic researcher recognised with major award - 02/07/2016

A GNS Science Antarctic researcher has won a prestigious leadership award named in the honour of the late Sir Peter Blake.

Caption: Antarctic researcher Dr Nancy Bertler in the Ice Core Research Facility at GNS Science in Lower Hutt. Nancy was the driving force behind the facility, which was built in 2007 and remains one of the top two such facilities in the world. Photo: Brendon O'Hagan

Caption: Antarctic researcher Dr Nancy Bertler in the Ice Core Research Facility at GNS Science in Lower Hutt. Nancy was the driving force behind the facility, which was built in 2007 and remains one of the top two such facilities in the world. Photo: Brendon O'Hagan

Nancy Bertler has been recognised for her major contribution to investigating climate change in Antarctica and being a role model for young scientists, especially women.

A joint appointment between GNS Science and Victoria University of Wellington, Dr Bertler is one of six recipients of the 2016 Blake Leader Award.

The Award is given to mid-career New Zealanders who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and a determination to achieve extraordinary things. Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae presented this year’s awards to the recipients at a gala event in Auckland on Friday.

“The award is a huge honour. It’s extremely humbling considering the calibre of previous winners, their awe inspiring achievements and their dedication,” Dr Bertler said.

“I’m excited to have the opportunity to get to know many of them and to be challenged to stretch further in the spirit of the award.”

Dr Bertler manages the National Ice Core Research Facility at GNS Science in Lower Hutt, one of the top two such facilities in the world. She also leads multi-national field deployments to remote parts of Antarctica to recover ice cores from ice sheets for the study of past climates.

She is chief scientist for the Roosevelt Island Climate Evolution (RICE) project, a nine-nation initiative that has recovered and analysed a 763m-deep ice core from the Ross Ice Shelf.

Over the past year, she has been working with collaborators from 14 nations to develop a science strategy for drilling an ice core at Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica, which the international science community is closely watching for its potential to melt and raise sea levels.

In spite of an impressive list of achievements in science and logistics, which includes leading 13 expeditions to Antarctica, Dr Bertler believes her most notable success is giving the type of opportunities to early career scientists that were given to her.

She credits her success to support from the former director of the Antarctic Research Centre Professor Peter Barrett, current director Professor Timothy Naish, former GNS Science chief executive Dr Alex Malahoff, as well as colleagues and collaborators nationally and internationally.

While her scientific expertise lies in understanding Antarctica as a driver of climate change, she cares about the impact of these changes on New Zealand.

In 2005, she set up a new course at Victoria University – ‘Climate Change and New Zealand’s future’- which developed a new model of teaching and discussion around the causes of a warming world. She led the course for six years.

“Every healthy society needs a vibrant scientific community, and every scientific community needs passionate, smart people asking important questions and developing useful solutions.

“The first time I went to Antarctica I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland. I feel hugely privileged to work in such an important place.

“Antarctica is critical to humanity as it drives key aspects of future climate change and provides unique insight into understanding climate change. One of the most challenging effects of climate change for New Zealand is the future increase in sea level driven by the shrinking ice sheets of Antarctica.”

Past Blake Leader Award winners include Dr Michelle Dickinson, Brendon McCullum, Claudia Batten, Sam Johnson, Dr Sam Hazledine, Therese Walsh, Beatrice Faumuina, and Phil Keoghan.

Read more and watch a video here: http://www.sirpeterblaketrust.org/posts/2016/06/21/nancy-bertler-alumni

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Background

Ice cores are valuable research tools for scientists who study past climates. They store detailed records of weather and climatic conditions going back thousands of years. Dr Nancy Bertler was the driving force behind the building of the Ice Core Research Facility at GNS Science. It opened in 2007 and remains one of the most sophisticated ice core storage and research facilities in the world. It comprises an office area, an ultra-clean lab at ambient temperature, a working freezer at minus 18 degrees Celsius, and two storage freezers at minus 35C with access to a large range of analytical instruments.

Outline of the Roosevelt Island Climate Evolution (RICE) Project

Dr Nancy Bertler initiated and led this nine-nation, multi-year project that built one of only four intermediate depth ice core drilling systems, capable of drilling to 1000m below the surface of Antarctica. The field work took four years with drilling occurring over two summer seasons between 2011 and 2013 with deployments lasting about four months each. Roosevelt Island is about 130km long and 65km wide and lies in eastern part of the Ross Ice Shelf. Its ice covering varies in thickness from  400m to 900m.

Between 2013 and 2015, the 763m of ice core stored in 1m lengths, was melted in the Ice Core Research Facility at GNS Science and more than 25 different types of analyses were performed on the meltwater.  The melting and analysis involved scientists and students from more than 20 countries. The focus of the research is the potential of rapid deglaciation of Antarctica's marine based ice sheets in a warming world.

Results from the RICE project indicate a higher climate sensitivity of the Antarctic ice sheets than was previously thought.  A key finding is data showing how quickly the Ross Ice Shelf, about the size of France, will retreat because of warming temperatures in the ocean.  Information from the project is helping to increase the accuracy of global climate models and thus improve future projections.

Results are also feeding into to local and central government agencies in New Zealand to help them plan mitigation and adaptation measures.