Author:McKay, Sarah

Antarctica is the vast continent at the bottom of the world. It is extremely isolated, not only geographically, by its distance from any other land mass, but also because of its long dark winter, cold temperatures, ice covered landscape, snow storms and driving winds. I have always been curiously drawn towards it. There is so much to discover and explore in a space still relatively unknown.

I worked with Professor Christina Hulbe, Dean of the Otago University School of Surveying, for the Art and Space Project. Christina is conducting research on the Polar Ice sheets, on the changes that have occurred in the past and those that are happening now. (1) Her recent work is based on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica. She is the lead scientist in an international team in a New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute-funded programme that is examining the history of the stability of the shelf. The ice shelf is a floating extension of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and is vulnerable to climate change. The project involves drilling through the shelf to observe the ice, the hidden ocean beneath and drilling into the sediment below to determine its condition and stability. (2) This gives some insight into how the ice shelf has acted previously, and how it will behave in the future, as the earth continues to warm and becomes affected by the greater rate of climate change. I found this research concept fascinating and started thinking of how looking into the past, seeing beneath the surface, can enable insights into the future.

When Christina introduced me to her work, I became aware of the importance of mapping. It is where our understanding begins by looking and studying contemporary maps of Antarctica. These maps are produced from space, directly above the continent, using a range of wavelengths to give multiple views of the surface of Antarctica, the land structure, the surface height, the temperature and its variation around the continent, the weather patterns. Repeated over and over, they become a time lapse of the land and its changes. These maps provide a framwork of information that enable scientists to analyse the patterns and natural systems around the continent. With the aid of a range of maps we can trace the ice flow, the forms and patterns that run in the ice as it moves. They show changes that are occurring in the ice over time that would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye. On the ice all you see is this vast white wilderness (space) that...

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