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Collaborative Research: Paleohistory of the Larsen Ice Shelf System: Phase II - NSF-ANT03-38220

The Larsen Ice Shelf is the third largest ice shelf in Antarctica and has continued a pattern of catastrophic decay since the mid 1990's. The proposed marine geologic work at the Larsen Ice Shelf builds upon our previous NSF-OPP funding and intends to test the working hypothesis that the Larsen B Ice Shelf system has been a stable component of Antarctica's glacial system since it formed during rising sea levels 10,000 years BP. This conclusion, if supported by observations from our proposed work, is an important first step in establishing the uniqueness and consequences of rapid regional warming currently taking place across the Peninsula. Our previous work in the Larsen A and B embayments has allowed us to recognize the signature of past ice shelf fluctuations and their impact on the oceanographic and biologic environments. We have also overcome many of the limitations of standard radiocarbon dating in Antarctic marine sequences by using variations in the strength of the earth's magnetic field for correlation of sediment records and by using specific organic compounds (instead of bulk sediment) for radiocarbon dating. We intend to pursue these analytical advances and extend our sediment core stratigraphy to areas uncovered by the most recent collapse of the Larsen B Ice Shelf and areas immediately adjacent to the Larsen C Ice Shelf. In addition to the core recovery program, we intend to utilize our unique access to the ice shelf front to continue our observations of the snow/ice stratigraphy, oceanographic character, and ocean floor character. Sediment traps will also be deployed in order to measure the input of debris from glaciers that are now surging in response to the ice shelf collapse. This proposal is a multi-institutional, international (USAP, Italy, and Canada) effort that combines the established expertise in a variety of disciplines and integrates the research plan into the educational efforts of primarily undergraduate institutions but including some graduate education. This is a three-year project with field seasons planned with flexibility in order to accommodate schedules for the RVIB L.M. Gould. The Antarctic Peninsula is undergoing greater warming than almost anywhere on Earth, perhaps associated with human-induced greenhouse effects. Our proposed work contributes to understanding of these changes where they are occurring first and with greatest magnitude and impact upon the environment.

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