Student monitors Antarctic sea ice

RESEARCH: Canterbury PhD researcher Daniel Price takes a sea ice thickness measurement in Antarctica.
RESEARCH: Canterbury PhD researcher Daniel Price takes a sea ice thickness measurement in Antarctica.

A Canterbury University student is using satellites to investigate the thickness of Antarctic sea ice to help assess climate change.

Gateway Antarctica PhD student Daniel Price spent three weeks at McMurdo Sound late last year gathering data for his research into mapping sea-ice thickness using satellites.

Price said sea ice in the Southern Ocean had a fivefold increase in area during winter and melted in summer.

"Antarctica represents the area about which the least is known with respect to our global climate system, but is the area in which change will potentially have the greatest impact upon us," he said.

Satellites offered the only feasible way of covering the vast continent, he said.

A European Space Agency satellite was launched last year, but its data had to be verified on the ground to ensure accuracy.

Price's research involves drilling holes in the ice to check its thickness at the same time a satellite flew 700 kilometres above the Earth.

A helicopter electromagnetic induction survey was also carried out, which recorded sea-ice thickness from a height of 20 metres over a 1600-kilometre area.

"The idea is to pull all that data together to get better thickness maps of the ice," Price said.

"It also means that we have a baseline of data going forward that we can work from to see if climate change is affecting the ice."

The team, including a PhD student from the University of Alberta in Canada, worked 18-hour days in up to minus 40 degrees Celsius wind-chill temperatures and whiteout conditions to complete the work.

"We have to protect these last untouched areas of the planet," Price said. "It is the general consensus within the scientific community that our actions are now resulting in changes to the polar regions.

"These changes will in turn impact our lives at some stage."

He hopes to go to Antarctica again this year for more field work.

See Price's video of his Antarctica trip here.

The Press