Measuring East Antarctic Ice Sheet Stability

What Are They Doing?

An international team of scientists from the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia traveled to McMurdo and Casey Stations in Antarctica to finish installing equipment on an airplane which was used later in the field season to conduct airborne surveys over the Aurora Subglacial Basin, a geologic formation under the East Antarctic Ice Sheet.

The area is one that was considered stable until recently, but could now represent the weak underbelly of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, the largest remaining body of ice on Earth. The research aimed to learn how Earth's climate changed in the past and how future climate change could affect global sea levels.

The team flew an upgraded World War II-era DC-3 aircraft using multiple airborne geophysical instruments to map the thickness of the ice sheet and measure the texture, composition, density, and topography of rocks below the ice. Data from the project helped model East Antarctic ice stability and helped forecast how ice might react to climate change.

The research being conducted may also help solve mysteries about past climate, as the team searches for new sites to drill ice cores with the potential to extend the ice core record beyond one million years. For more information, visit the ICECAP website.

Where Are They?

The team spent the first part of the field season in McMurdo Station, one of the American Antarctic stations, and then traveled to the Australian Casey Station on the edge of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Later in the season, the team flew transects over East Antarctica, to study the Aurora Subglacial Basin, which includes mountains, valleys, and lakes, all covered by parts of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. The East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) is one of two large ice sheets in Antarctica, and the largest in the entire world, and is unlike the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) that rests on frozen water.

Expedition Map


Hey everyone, sorry for the silence but we've had an incredibly intense field season in the icy south with the ICECAP project (and a bit of my NASA-funded Mars analog work). I've just departed, currently in Hobart, Tasmania on my way home. A contingent of our group remains at Casey Station, an Australian base, until Feb. 2nd carrying out the remainder of the work.We spent three weeks (or was it four? or a hundred?) in McMurdo configuring and testing our new airborne platform, a beautiful old (1942) DC-3 converted to a Basler BT-67 with modern turbine engines, new avionics, skis and a whole...
Every first year person down here has to go through a survival/emergency training that goes from the very basic things to the more advanced blizzard training.   First is some classroom time where they introduce you to the equipment: tent, shovel, ice pick, snow saw, emergency rations... Things you'll need in the deep field. The class was a combination of survival training and that for camping in Antarctica. Pretty soon the team was in a "Delta" headed down to the sea ice. This vehicle is huge; even the wheels are almost as tall as a man. From the drop off point it is a hike to the...
The research team went to Antarctica through Churchchrist, New Zealand.  In Churchchrist they had to get their ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear issued.  This gear includes all the clothes, coats, gloves, boots, hats, etc. that will be needed in the cold environment of Antarctica.  J. Holt at his ECW gear issue in Christchurch Photo: J. Holt The UTIG research team had to wait for great weather before leaving Christchurch and flying to McMurdo Station, Antarctica.   Isaac, a member of the UTIG research team, describes his first experiences in Antarctica:  We arrived safely on Friday to...
The aircraft needed some changes and installations before being ready to do all the research in Antarctica. JKB aircraft in prep. Photo By: J. Holt D. Young, J. Holt, and D. Blankenship with the JKB at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Photo By: L. Lawyer First it had a visit to Basler where installations of hardpoints for the VHF radar antennas and cutout for laser and camera. Next the aircraft took a visit to Kenn Borek Air, Ltd. where installation of mounting points and hydraulics for skiis, preparation of the plane for the tailboom, and installation of GPS antennas...

Project Information

10 December 2008 to 10 January 2009
Location: McMurdo and Casey Stations
Project Funded Title: ICECAP (Investigating the Cryospheric Evolution of the Central Antarctic Plate)

Meet the Team

Katie Pena's picture
Zilker Elementary School
Austin, TX
United States

Katie Peña currently teaches at Zilker Elementary School in Austin, Texas. This is her 4th year of teaching at the school where she has taught both the 4th and 5th grades. A graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, with a Bachelor in Science in Applied Learning and Development, Katie has always known she wanted to be a teacher. As far back as 3rd grade in Coppell, Texas, her teacher, Mrs. Howard, whose picture she still has, inspired her by changing her attitude about school and challenging her to have fun while learning. Mrs. Howard had changed Katie’s life, and she knew that she wanted to do the same for other children. Since becoming a teacher, Katie has continued her quest to help every child find joy in learning. Her daily goals for teaching are very simple, teach to each child and have a blast while doing it.

Jack Holt's picture
University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX
United States
Don Blankenship's picture
University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX
United States
Duncan Young's picture
University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX
United States