During the austral summer 2017, the OGS Explora, Italian research vessel, navigated towards the Ross Sea in the framework of the 32th Italian expedition in Antarctica
(funded by PNRA – Programma Nazionale di Ricerche in Antartide).
Florence Colleoni, ice sheet modeler at the CMCC Foundation – Ocean Dynamics and Data assimilation Division, participated to this expedition. Her studies are mainly focused on past climates and on past and future ice sheet dynamics; at the moment of the Antarctic campaign, she was in particular interested in interactions with ocean and sea floor morphology at various timescales.
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The main objective of the Sea Ross expedition was going back in time to study what is below the sea floor while identifying the extent of the sea ice sheet under climate conditions warmer than today and detecting the processes that caused that retreat. Moreover, one of the key objective of the expedition was to locate the areas where ocean dynamics potentially influences or not the evolution of continental margins and the ice sheet stability.
Several research projects were carried on: WHISPERS, ODYSSEA, GLEVORS, and ANTSSS (EuroFleets); the CMCC was involved in two of them, that is WHISPERS and GLEVORS.
WHISPERS (West Antarctic Ice Sheet HIstory from Slope Processes – Eastern Ross Sea) is focused on the reconstruction of paleo-bedrocks from Oligocene to Pliocene and on the assessment of the impact on ocean circulation and ice sheet dynamics.
GLEVORS project is focused on Glacial evolution in the Western Ross Sea off North Victoria Land (Antarctica) for the LGM, and further back.
“This year”, F. Colleoni tells us, “there were exceptional sea-ice conditions: all the ice sheet collapsed and after February 10, 2017, there were no sea ice in the Ross Sea (and in particular in the western area, one of the planned location of the oceanographic campaign)”.
These conditions allowed the vessel to reach all the planned areas for survey, but winds and rough sea force the scientific team onboard to partially alter the experiments and sampling activities.
For the first time, a multi-disciplinary team worked to localise the main water masses onto the continental shelf edge of the Ross Sea as well as at the front of the Ross Ice Shelf in a unique campaign. There were geophysicists looking at what is below the sea floor, oceanographers studying how water masses changes and geologists sampling sediments from the sea floor.
This is not only a story about science, but also, adventure and friendship, exploring parts of the Ross Sea that were unknown because always sea-ice covered.
Read also the article Antarctica: the CMCC polar adventure started on the CMCC’s blog.