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Cold comfort ahead for climate expert; Environment Editor Tony Henderson on climate change ventures from Antarctica to the North-East coast.

Byline: Tony Henderson

RESEARCHER Dr David Barber will leave the approaching North-East winter next week for summer on faraway shores.

But there will be precious little change in temperature - for his destination is Antarctica.

David, 29, who lives in Hazeldene in Tynemouth, leaves on Tuesday to spend four months working on a project to measure the movement of ice sheets.

The findings will feed into studies on how climate change is affecting the ice, which in turn would have an impact on sea levels.

David, who works in Newcastle University's School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, will be installing global positioning system (GPS) signal receivers on two huge plateaus of ice covering the sea, so that their movements can be monitored by satellite.

The GPS units will enable measurements to be made by allowing for the effects of the tides on the ice sheets.

David will fly out from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire to the Ascension Islands and then on to the Falklands.

From there, he will fly to the British Antarctic Survey base at Rothera, in West Antarctica, where he will spend Christmas against a suitable backdrop.

David will install receivers on the vast Ronne ice shelf, which is about the same size as France. Flying from the base to the Ronne shelf will be the equivalent of travelling from Edinburgh to Geneva.

He will also plant receivers on the smaller Larsen ice sheet, which featured in the opening scenes of the climate change disaster movie, The Day After Tomorrow, in which Hollywood special effects made it appear as if the ice sheet cracked as it was being drilled.

David's Newcastle University colleague on the three-year project, earth scientist Dr Matt King, said: "The Larsen sheet is quite famous because about five years ago, a chunk about half the size of Cumbria and a few hundred metres thick broke off in a matter of days.

"You could say that the real life scenario has exceeded Hollywood's expectations."

"Satellite measurements have helped us make great progress in mapping the entire ice sheet, but we still don't actually know how quickly the ice sheets are melting, if at all, but it is important that we find out and monitor the situation so that we can anticipate any rise in sea level.

"The consensus among those working on the situation is that climate change is having some effect but exactly what effect is uncertain.

"But we need to know what is happening because what happens in Antarctica will affect the UK because of sea levels," said Matt, who has visited Antarctica to study changes in the behaviour of large floating glaciers.

The summer temperature at Rothera will be around - 5C. But when David is camping out in the field on the ice the wind chill could drive that figure down to around -20C.

David, who graduated from Newcastle University, said that offduty activities include skiing and photography.

"But the work is important. It will be an exciting trip and something to remember," he said.

"Using satellites, we can now measure any movement on the Earth's surface to an accuracy of a few millimetres. This is a very good way to measure small annual changes in the thickness of ice but first you have to know about other movements, such as those caused by tides.' The research project is being carried out by the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences at Newcastle University and is being funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

Support for the project is being provided by the British Antarctic Survey and the Earth and Space Research organisation in the US.


HOSTILE TERRAIN: Dr Matt King, left, at work in Antarctica.; ICE MAN: Dr David Barber of Newcastle University who is off to Antarctica on a climate change mission.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Nov 3, 2007
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