An international interdisciplinary research project to unlock the mysteries behind a great unexplored region in Antarctica has got off the ground. Part of the International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2009 programme, the 'Antarctica's Gamburtsev Province' (AGAP) project will look for the oldest ice on Earth, investigate subglacial lakes and explore the Gamburtsev mountains. These and other activities will help the research team determine what changes took place in the past, what is going on now and how the region will be affected in future. The team comprises researchers, engineers, pilots and support staff from Australia, China, Germany, Japan, the UK and US. The project is considered one of the most technically and scientifically ambitious and physically demanding projects in the Antarctic to date, the researchers said in a statement. AGAP is being financed and managed by the national Antarctic operators from the six countries involved. 'This is both an exciting and challenging project. It is a bit like preparing to go to Mars,' highlighted Dr Fausto Ferraccioli from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), one of the participating institutes. 'Because of IPY, scientists from six countries are working together to do the unthinkable, to explore the deep interior of East Antarctica - one of the last frontier regions of our planet,' he explained. 'For two and half months, our international teams will pool their resources and expertise to survey mountains the size of the Alps buried under the ice sheet that currently defy any reasonable geological explanation.' The team is also on a quest to find ice that is over 1.2 million years old, Dr Ferraccioli said. 'Locked in this ancient ice is a detailed record of past climate change that will assist in making better predictions for our future.' No human has ever actually seen the Gamburtsev mountains. They extend over 1,200 kilometres and rise to heights of more than 3,000 metres, but are covered by 600-metre thick ice. In order to tackle this puzzle, Chinese, Japanese and US researchers will use seismology to assess the deeper structure under these mountains, and will generate a four-dimensional history of their evolution. Scientists commonly believe that the subglacial mountains are the birthplace of the vast East Antarctic ice sheet, the team said. The work involved in this project will offer insight into how the mountains were formed and provide scientists with the most ideal site for future ice-core drilling campaigns, the statement read. Meanwhile, the equipment used in this project will also develop a three-dimensional view of the hidden region. BAS has teamed up with the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) and the US-based National Science Foundation (NSF) to use aircraft that is equipped with ice-penetrating radar, magnetic sensors and gravimeters. 'There's an amazing history of our planet locked in Antarctica's ice and rocks,' noted Professor Nicholas Owens, head of BAS. 'It's only now that we have the technology to start uncovering the secrets from this unique natural laboratory. This is really big science and it can be done only by working with partners from other national Antarctic programmes,' he said.
Australia, China, Germany, Japan, United States