Research projects

Find a list of ice core research projects that the Centre is actively involved with.

An ice core

We are involved in the following collaborative& ice core research projects:


RICE (Roosevelt Island Climate Evolution) Project seeks to understand past, present, and future changes of the Ross Ice Shelf, a major drainage pathway of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. To determine the rate of change, RICE aims to provide an annually resolved ice core record for the past 20,000 years and beyond, when global temperatures increased by 6oC to preindustrial temperatures, global sea level rose by ~120 m, and the Ross Ice Shelf grounding line retreated over 1,000 km. Most of the Ross Ice Shelf retreat occurred when global sea level had already reached modern levels. For this reason, the precise correlation between increasing air and ocean temperatures, and the velocity and characteristics of the ice shelf retreat, provides a unique opportunity to determine accurately the sensitivity of the Ross Ice Shelf to warming.

Read more about RICE


ANZICE (Antarctica-New Zealand Interglacial Climate Extremes) seeks to understand the likely response of the New Zealand-Antarctic region to a warmer world. To help achieve this, the project uses new and existing records from ice cores to determine how Antarctica’s climate and ocean behaved during past warm phases such as occurred around 7,000-9,000 years ago (Holocene Climatic Optimum) and 125,000 years ago (Last Interglacial Period or Stage 5e).

Read more about ANZICE

ANDRILL – Ice Core Correlation

ANDRILL (Antarctic geological Drilling) is a& multinational research collaboration. Two of our ice core locations (Mt Erebus and Evans Piedmont) are in the immediate vicinity of ANDRILL coring locations (Windless Bight and Granite Harbour). The ice core records will provide a terrestrial high-resolution climate dataset for the younger part of marine record recovered through ANDRILL. This will provide the unique opportunity to compare contemporary on- and off-shore records.

Read more about ANDRILL


Global Change Through Time is a FRST-funded GNS Science programme and examines past analogues for future global change at a wide range of geographic and temporal scales - from variation in local catchments over thousands of years, to the evolution of Antarctic-sourced ocean currents over tens of millions of year.

This range of scale reflects the wide spectra over which climatic and oceanographic systems evolve. Data are drawn from onshore New Zealand, the Southwest Pacific and Southern Ocean, and Antarctica.

Current research aims to improve understanding of the effects of anthropogenic, greenhouse gas-induced, global warming.

Read more about Global Change through Time


ITASE (International Trans Antarctic Scientific Expedition) is a SCAR (Scientific Committee of Antarctic Research) approved programme and has as its primary aim “the collection and interpretation of a continent-wide array of environmental parameters, assembled through the coordinated efforts of scientists from 20 nations” (Mayewski 2006, PAGES, vol.14, no.1,26-28).

The NZ contribution to ITASE concentrates on coastal sites, predominantly from low elevation, local ice domes.

Mid-latitude Southern Hemisphere climate is particularly sensitive to changes in the position and strength of the circumpolar westerlies, which are dependent on the relative input of Antarctic air masses. Antarctic atmospheric circulation on inter-annual to decadal timescales is dominated by El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Southern Annular Mode or Antarctic Oscillation (SAM) and Antarctic Circumpolar Wave (ACW), but their hierarchy of importance is controversial. While some researchers suggest SAM as the driving forcing of the regions climate, others argue that the ACW is dominating the continent’s climatic regime. In contrast, we demonstrated from coastal ice cores in McMurdo Sound that ENSO governs temperature variability in the Ross Sea region. Meteorological observations are too short and sparse to resolve this uncertainty. In order to quantify the relative importance of each of these oscillations on the climate of the mid to high latitudes and their tele-connections, high-resolution climate proxies are required. We study intermediate length (<500m) ice cores from the Ross Sea region. The sites have been chosen on their basis of their sensitivity to different climate drivers and the synthesis of all records will help to examine their individual influence and variability.

Ground penetrating radar is used to map bedrock topography, ice thickness, and internal flow structures. Then ~4m deep snow pits are sampled with high resolution (1cm) and intermediate depth ice cores are recovered.

Read more about ITASE

Latitudinal Gradient Project

Latitudinal Gradient Project (LGP) is an international effort between New Zealand, USA, and Italy. We contribute to LGP by providing a history of temperature, humidity, sea ice cover, precipitation source, atmospheric circulation, and ocean productivity along the Victoria Coast for the last 1000 to 10,000 years depending on the site.

This will help to determine whether the current ecological system found has evolved under prevailing climate, or how much time the ecological system had to adjust to potential climate change in the recent past.

Read more about LGP

Antarctica in the global climate system

Antarctica in the Global Climate System (AGCS) is a multinational, SCAR approved programme investigating atmospheric and oceanic linkages between Antarctica and the rest of the Earth system for the last 10,000 years and 100 years into the future. The programme integrates existing and new ice core records, satellite data, fully coupled climate models and meteorological and oceanic data.

The scientific aims of AGCS are grouped into the four themes. The New Zealand ice core programme aims to contribute to themes 1, 2, and 4:

  • Theme 1 - Decadal time scale variability in the Antarctic climate system
  • Theme 2 - Global and regional climate signals in ice cores
  • Theme 4 - The export of Antarctic climate signals

Read more about AGCS

Holocene greenhouse gas concentration and isotopic signatures

In collaboration with Dr Dominic Ferretti and Dr Katja Riedel at NIWA, we are analysing a new ice core recovered from a high snow accumulation zone on Mt Erebus, Antarctica. The use of& rapid air bubble closure allows us to construct a greenhouse gas record of similar or potentially even higher resolution than the Australian Law Dome record for the last millennium.

In addition, we are analysing the carbon isotopic composition of the greenhouse gas to fingerprint the sources of the carbon, to better understand the role of the ocean, atmosphere, and the terrestrial biosphere sources and sinks. This will improve understanding of pathways and processes that determine variations in atmospheric greenhouse gases in the recent past, and help us gauge their influence in the future.

Ross Ice Shelf stability

The timing and velocity of the Ross Ice Shelf retreat some 9 to 5 ka years ago is still discussed controversially. Coastal ice core records are very sensitive to the change from an ice shelf environment to seasonally open water, which manifests itself in a shift in the chemical signature of snow and aerosol precipitation.

By dating the occurrence of the characteristic chemistry shift in the proposed ice core locations, the average retreat velocity can be calculated and its dependency on air temperature tested. Our sites are located along the retreat line at the Victoria Land Coast and Marie Byrd Land. Together with additional cores from our international collaboration partners, we aim to reconstruct the velocity of the ice shelf retreat as well as contemporary environmental conditions.

The Antarctic – New Zealand connection

New Zealand’s future economic and social development, environmental sustainability, and infrastructural planning relies critically upon the accurate assessment of the impact of global warming in our sector of the planet.

A joint programme between GNS Science and the University of Maine led by Dr Uwe Morgenstern is investigating ice core records from New Zealand (Tasman Glacier and Mt Ruapehu ice field).

The comparison between our Antarctic ice core records and Dr Morgenstern’s New Zealand ice core records will provide much needed data for the development of realistic regional climate models to predict New Zealand climate in the 21st Century.

Read more about the Tasman ice core project

Longer-Term mass balance objective

During the 1999/2000 season, mass balance measurement devices (the submerged velocity method) were installed in Victoria Lower Glacier, and also at the Evans Piedmont Glacier in 2004/05. The measurements at Victoria Lower Glacier show that the glacier has a slightly negative mass balance, losing around 12 cm thickness per year. A continuation of the measurements will allow monitoring changes in the ablation intensity of the McMurdo Sound Region.