2007 – 2008 US ITASE Field Report

Paul Andrew Mayewski, Gordon Hamilton (University of Maine)
Brian Welch (St. Olaf College)

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Introduction: US ITASE is foremost a scientific endeavor that seeks to collect the highest quality scientific data under the safest and most efficient conditions possible.  It has been operating successfully as a traverse platform since 1999 for a total of six field seasons and over this period has traversed >8000km. 

US ITASE is a multi-disciplinary project that as of the 2007-2008 field season includes six separately funded science projects:

Surface radar (PI Steve Arcone, CRREL)
Surface glaciology and remote sensing (PI Gordon Hamilton, UMaine)
Deep radar (PIs Bob Jacobel and Brian Welch, St. Olaf College)
Ice core chemistry (PIs Paul Mayewski and Kirk Maasch)
Ice core stratigraphy (PI Deb Meese, UMaine)
Ice core stable isotopes (PI Eric Steig, UWashington).

These science activities are coordinated logistically under the umbrella of a science management office (PIs Paul Mayewski and Gordon Hamilton, UMaine)

This report includes a brief introduction to ITASE, US ITASE Phase 1 (1999-2003) and details of the second portion (2007-2008) of Phase 2 US ITASE. Previous US ITASE Annual Field Reports (1999-2000, 2000-2001, 2001-2002, 2002-2003, 2006-2007) describing logistics and science are available at (Field Reports).

Introduction to ITASE: ITASE is a multi-national (21 nations), multi-disciplinary field research program with the broad aim of understanding the recent environmental history of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.  Primary emphasis is placed on collecting records covering the last ~200 to 1000 years of past climate over Antarctica to allow examination of the modern anthropogenic era plus at least the previous 100 years of naturally forced climate. We conduct our research at selected sites to include the two most recent analogs for cold and warm climates, the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warm Period, respectively.

ITASE evolved from discussions between representatives from several national ice coring programs during a meeting hosted by the European Science Foundation in Grenoble, France in 1990. Twelve nations formulated the original concept (Australia, Canada, China, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States) at the suggestion of the US representative to that meeting (P. Mayewski).  Scientists from Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Canada, India, Korea, New Zealand, Norway and Poland have since joined the program.

ITASE was formally accepted in 1991 by the overarching international committee for Antarctic research, the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), as one of its primary initiatives. ITASE is officially recognized as a Scientific Program Group. It was adopted as an IGBP (International Geosphere-Biosphere Program) Project in 1993.  The SCAR ITASE Project Office is located at the University of Maine along with the US ITASE Scientific Management Office. Phase 2 of US ITASE (2006-2008) is one of the US contributions to IPY (International Polar Year).

Since the initiation of ITASE, several international workshops have been held for purposes of organization and data interpretation.  One of these workshops led to the development of an international Science and Implementation Plan for ITASE (Mayewski and Goodwin, 1997, (see Science Plan).  Other international workshops have taken place in Durham, New Hampshire (1999), Potsdam, Germany (2002), Milan, Italy (2003), Bremen, Germany (2005), and Hobart, Tasmania (2006).  The next SCAR sponsored ITASE meeting will be held in St. Petersburg, Russia. These workshops have provided important venues for data sharing, concept development, preparation of joint publications, and coordinated logistics planning.

Introduction to US ITASE: US ITASE is effectively a polar research vessel.  It offers the ground-based opportunities of traditional style traverse travel coupled with the modern technology of GPS navigation, crevasse detecting radar, remote sensing, satellite communications and multi-disciplinary research.  By operating as a ground-based transport system US ITASE offers scientists the opportunity to experience the dynamic environment they are studying.  US ITASE also offers an important interactive venue for research through multi-disciplinary interactions similar to that afforded by oceanographic research vessels and large polar field camps, without the cost of the former or the lack of mobility of the latter.  More importantly the combination of disciplines represented by US ITASE provides a unique, multi-dimensional (space and time) view of the atmosphere, the ice sheet and their histories (Fig. 1).  When US ITASE Phase 1 reached South Pole at the end of the 2002-2003 field season, it had sampled the physical and chemical environment of West Antarctica over spatial scales in excess of 5500 km and 3500 m in depth, and over time periods ranging from several hundred years (at sub-annual scale) from ice cores to thousands of years from geophysical techniques.

Figure 1 – US ITASE multi-disciplinary view of ice and climate over Antarctica. Figure prepared by B. Welch.

A list of scientific products (abstracts, papers, reports) produced by research teams involved in US ITASE is available in: “Toward a High Resolution Southern Hemisphere Climate Reconstruction: Mapping the Antarctic ice sheet in space and time” produced by members of US ITASE available at (Publications/hirespaper).

Among the scientific accomplishments of US ITASE thus far are:

  1. high resolution detailing of surface and deep radar reflectors as continuous stratigraphic time horizons across the thousands of km of traverse route,
  2. ice core calibration of radar reflectors in the upper 100 meters of the ice sheet to determine the source of these reflectors,
  3. mapping of spatial and temporal variability in accumulation rates over large distances using ground penetrating radar, and investigating the causes of these variations,
  4. examination of physical causes of radar backscatter variations in RADARSAT imagery and other remote sensing validation work,
  5. examination of spatial variability in chemistry over West Antarctica and relationship to changes in source regions and source strengths,
  6. ice core reconstructions of seasonal, inter-annual and decadal scale variability in accumulation rate, temperature, atmospheric circulation, volcanic activity, and sea ice extent with climate model validation,
  7. identification of ENSO (El Nîno Southern Oscillation), ACW (Antarctic Circumpolar Wave), PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation), EAH (East Antarctic High), and ASL (Amundsen Sea Low) atmospheric circulation structure in glaciochemical time-series with implications for understanding climate over the Antarctic and Southern Ocean,
  8. assessment of modern global climate change (short-term variability in snowfall, temperature, and atmospheric circulation, pollution) in the context of decadal to centennial-scale
  9. climate and sea level change,
  10. deconvolution of local-scale variability in ice core-derived accumulation rate compared to regional scale variability,
  11. glaciological reconnaissance for deep drilling in West and East Antarctica (inland WAIS deep drilling, Hercules Dome, Titan Dome),
  12. high resolution mapping of subglacial topography, and subglacial lakes in previously unexplored region and as validation for previous surveys such as SPRI and BEDMAP,
  13. characterization of ice flow dynamics based on deformation of internal stratigraphy, basal and ice surface topography,
  14. characterization of basal reflectivity based on changes in basal temperature and/or geology,
  15. identification of zones of basal melting in the interior of West Antarctica
  16. and ice stream shear along the coast utilizing satellite-derived (GPS) ice flow measurements,
  17. air sampling in the interior of West Antarctica,
  18. snow and firn permeability and microstructure measurements at locations with greatly differing accumulation rates and average temperatures,
  19. physical property measurements of annual layer stratigraphy, depth/density profiles and crystal growth profiles as a function of age and in situ temperature in snowpits and ice cores, and
  20. causes of variability in firn stratigraphy including the effects of ice speed, wind and topography.

The results of many of these projects are contained in peer-reviewed papers in a dedicated special volume of Annals of Glaciology (volume 41) plus in several other journals (Publications).

In addition to the foregoing US ITASE and ITASE have been instrumental in producing a document entitled: “State of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Climate System (SASOCS)” prepared for the Antarctica and the Global Climate System committee of SCAR. This document provides a basis for assessing and understanding future climate change over Antarctica and the Southern Ocean and will be released over the next few months.  SASOCS also serves as a building block for an even larger SCAR initiated document entitled: “Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment (ACCE)” that will be finalized by 2009.

The 2007-2008 FIELD SEASON

Field Party Members and brief list of qualifications:

Dan Breton (Graduate Student, GPS, surface radar, Maine Automated Density Gauge Experiment, high resolution borehole logging measurements, 2nd Antarctic season, UMaine)
Dan Dixon (Graduate Student, ice core processing oversight and surface snow sampling, 5th Antarctic season, UMaine)
Gordon Hamilton (PI, GPS, surface radar, accumulation rate, 12th Antarctic season, Associate Professor, University of Maine)
Elena Korotkikh (Graduate Student, ice core processing and field assistant, 1st Antarctic season, UMaine)
Paul Mayewski (PI, Field Leader, ice coring, 21st Antarctic season, Director/Professor, UMaine)
Luci Pandolfi (Cook, oversight for food and water supply, weather obs, WFR, 5th Antarctic season, UMaine)
Sharon Sneed (Geochemist, ice core processing, 1st Antarctic season, UMaine)
Nicky Spaulding (Graduate Student, ice core processing and field assistant, 1st Antarctic season, UMaine)
Joshua Swanson (Lead mechanic (mechanical oversight for Challengers and Pisten Bulley, traverse platform organization, WFR, 7th Antarctic season, 5 winter-overs, UMaine)
Luke Wagner (Camp organization (weather obs, field communications, aircraft operations, light mechanical equipment maintenance), WFR, 5th Antarctic season, UMaine)
Mike Waszkiewicz, Driller (oversight for ice core drilling, 5th Antarctic season, Data Logging North and UMaine)
Brian Welch (PI, deep radar, 5th Antarctic season, AssistantProfessor, St. Olaf College)

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