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Mass balance of the Antarctic Ice Cap (a contribution to EPICA)

Overkoepelend project: Research action SPSD-I: Sustainable management of the North Sea, meer
Referentie nr.: A4/DD/E01
Periode: December 1996 tot November 2000
Status: Afgelopen

Thesaurustermen: Boringen; Ijskappen; Klimaat; Oxygen isotope dating; Oxygen isotopes
Geografische termen: Antarctica [Marine Regions]; PSW, Antarctica, Queen Maud Land, Princess Ragnhild Coast, Breid Bay [Marine Regions]

Instituten (2)  Top 
  • Université Catholique de Louvain; Science and Technology Sector; Earth and Life Institute; Earth and Climate division (ELIc), meer
  • Federaal Wetenschapsbeleid (BELSPO), meer, financier

This study forms part of the EPICA project (European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica) which falls under the international research effort developed in recent decades in order to try to put forward a scientific response to the problems of global climatic changes.

The two large polar ice caps of Greenland and the Antarctic are privileged actors in the global climate system. Not only does their high capacity to reflect solar radiation influence the balance of the energy reaching the surface of the Earth, but they can contribute, by their possible melting, to raising the average sea level. These polar ice caps also constitute a record of the climatic system insofar as they register and preserve within their ice signs of the past climatic variations.

The project intends to contribute to tasks specifically identified in the EPICA scientific plan. It bears primarily on the development of a climatology (characteristics of the climate, here the current climate) of the Atlantic and Indian sectors of the Antarctic established on the basis of applying a regional climatic model (RCM). This climatology is expected to bring new elements to our knowledge of the spatial distribution of the climatic parameters specific to the above-mentioned areas, and thus to contribute to the process of interpreting the palaeoclimatological signals extracted from EPICA ice cores. It has as an additional aim the development of a "surface mass balance" function which will be provided to glaciologist-modellers participating in EPICA research.


EPICA’s overarching objective is to perform a continuous, high-resolution reconstruction of the global climate and past environmental changes, from the scale of the century to the scale of several hundreds of thousands of years, on the basis of the analysis of ice cores sampled by deep drilling.

Two major drilling stages are envisaged. The first, now in progress, relates to the central part of the Antarctic cap, i.e. the Concordia Dome zone. The second targets the Atlantic sector of the cap, namely Queen Maud Land. The final site will be selected depending on the results obtained at Concordia Dome.

The objectives of this research are the following :

1) To establish a relationship between the global climate and the local climate specific to the sites of EPICA drilling, a relationship which could be reversed during the reconstitution of the global climate based on the analysis of ice cores. For this purpose, the research more specifically aims at :

a) identification of the relevant features (high rate of accumulation, significant climatic influence of the Atlantic Ocean) so as to be able to select the most appropriate site of drilling in Queen Maud Land;

b) correct interpretation of climatological parameters of the ice core from Concordia Dome such as the Õ 18O and Õ D;

c) quantification of the ice movements which must be taken into account to correctly interpret the age of the ice core from Concordia Dome.

2) To provide the EPICA scientific community with a "surface mass balance" function of the Antarctic ice cap which should make it possible to reduce the uncertainty which still remains about the contribution of this cap to a possible elevation of the average level of the seas during the next century.

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