Page last updated at 23:50 GMT, Monday, 27 October 2008

Ice sheet secrets to be revealed

The bow of a ship in Antarctica
The £3m study of Antarctica will take four years to complete

The secrets of the largest ice sheet on earth are to be revealed under plans to map the Antarctic landscape in detail for the first time.

A team, including Edinburgh scientists, is to travel across East Antarctica in a four-year project to explore the land hidden beneath the ice-covered region.

Radar instruments will be used to penetrate the ice, which is several kilometres thick.

They hope to examine the composition and density of the underlying rock.

The area covered is half the size of the United States.

The findings from the £3m study will be used to help scientists understand how climates have changed over thousands of years and forecast future sea level changes.

Climate shifts

Professor Martin Siegert, of Edinburgh University, said: "This project will help us understand the behaviour of the largest ice sheet on Earth.

"The data that we collect should provide a lot more detail of what caused past climate shifts, why there appears to be more ice loss from glaciers at present, and give us real clues to what may happen in the coming decades.

"It will allow us to see for the first time the shape of the ice, and the land and lakes underneath it, and help us plan future research."

The project is known as ICECAP - Investigating the Cryospheric Evolution of the Central Antarctic Plate.

Scientists will fly over the region in heavily modified DC-3 aircraft over three Antarctic summers, beginning in December.

The first section, the eastern area, is believed to have Antarctica's deepest ice, at up to five kilometres thick.

Funding for the project is being provided by the UK Natural Environment Research Council, the Australian Antarctic Division, the US National Science Foundation and the University of Texas at Austin.

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