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Timing and Rates of Ice Sheet Thinning in The Ellsworth Mountains, Weddell Sea Embayment: Constraints on West Antarctic Ice Sheet Dynamics

A research project of the Department of Geography.


The Project is led by Dr Mike Bentley (Durham) and involves close collaboration with Professor David Sugden, Dr Chris Fogwill, and Dr Alun Hubbard (all School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh), and Dr Fin Stuart (SUERC). The project is supported by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) (NER/G/S/2003/00020) under the Antarctic Funding Initiative grant scheme.


The overall aim of the project is to establish the timing and rate of thinning of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) from its maximum extent in an area inland of the Weddell Sea embayment. The specific objectives are (a) to date geomorphological evidence of ice sheet thinning in the Ellsworth Mountains using in situ cosmogenic nuclides and (b) to infer WAIS dynamics (specifically grounding line and ice volume changes) in the Weddell Sea embayment through high resolution glaciological modelling, constrained against the geomorphological record of elevation change through time. The importance of this project is that the past dynamics of the WAIS have implications for its future behaviour, and thus global sea level change.


To achieve our aim we will have a terrestrial field campaign in the Ellsworth Mountains in season 2005-06, mapping geomorphology and sampling bedrock, erratics and tills for subsequent cosmogenic isotope analysis. Exposure ages on these samples will allow us to determine the vertical thinning history of the WAIS across the mountain range. We will use a high-resolution glaciological model to tie this thinning history to a grounding line history for the WAIS in the Weddell Sea embayment.

Marble Hills, Antarctica

Field Camp, Ellsworth Mountains


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