New Zealand scientists to drill kilometer-deep hole under Antarctic ice for research

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WELLINGTON, Nov. 10 (Xinhua) -- New Zealand scientists are preparing to drill a kilometer deep into the ocean floor below the Antarctica's largest Ross Ice Shelf to discover if cutting greenhouse gas emissions can help avoid catastrophic melt of the ice on the continent.

The Antarctic research project SWAIS 2C will investigate the sensitivity of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) to global warming of 2 degrees Celsius by retrieving sediment from the depths, said Antarctica New Zealand, the government agency responsible for carrying out research and exploration on the ice continent.

The research aimed to find out how the ice behaved when global temperatures were as warm as those expected in the coming decades, the agency said on Tuesday in a statement.

These geological records could reveal if there is a tipping point in climate system when large amounts of land-based ice melts, causing oceans to rise many meters -- if it had happened before, it could happen again, Antarctica New Zealand said.

The WAIS holds enough ice to raise sea levels by four meters.

The SWAIS 2C team includes some of the world's top Antarctic scientists, led by Richard Levy of GNS Science and Victoria University of Wellington, and Molly Patterson from the Binghamton University in the United States.

"We have formed a team of drillers, engineers, field experts and scientists who are up to the task. Discoveries will show us how much the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could melt if we miss Paris Agreement targets," Levy said.

Patterson said geological data provide direct evidence on the extent of the ice during a given time period. "This information is necessary to assess whether climate models are able to capture observed variability during warmer times in Earth's history prior to making any assumptions about the future."

SWAIS 2C's preparation team will depart from Scott Base this month for a 1,200 km traverse across the Ross Ice Shelf to the Siple Coast, where land ice meets the ocean and starts to float.

Once the drilling camp has been established, the wider science team will join the group and work through Antarctica's 'summer' until February. SWAIS 2C field campaigns are planned for the next three years.

No one has ever drilled into the Antarctic seabed at a location so far from a major base, or so close to the WAIS center.

Engineers at Victoria University of Wellington's Antarctic research center have spent four years developing world-first technology capable of hot water drilling through 800 meters of ice before taking sediment samples from up to 200 meters beneath ice sheet.

The Antarctic Science Platform program leader, Tim Naish at Victoria University of Wellington, said the project will address one of the biggest questions concerning climate scientists and humanity.

"Did the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse the last time the Earth warmed? Can we save the Antarctic Ice Sheet if nations meet the Paris Agreement targets?" Naish said.

Antarctica New Zealand chief scientific advisor John Cottle said this is an exciting development for Antarctic climate science.

"International recognition and support for the SWAIS 2C project highlights New Zealand's world leadership in scientific drilling in Antarctica. The climate records retrieved in this project will be critical to a much better understanding of how Antarctica will respond to a warming planet," he said. Enditem

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