OSU researchers receive NSF grant, will travel to Antarctica

July 20, 2009

Dr. Alex Simms, assistant professor in the Boone Pickens School of Geology, and Dr. Regina DeWitt, assistant research professor in the physics department, have received a $199,978 grant from the National Science Foundation to continue a research project on sea level changes in Antarctica. Next spring, Simms and two graduate students will travel to the continent to collect samples of beach deposits.

"We will be trying to determine how much ice was on Antarctica during the last ice age by determining how much the continent has rebounded from the melting of the ice," Simms said. "This rebound is recorded in the present elevation of beach ridges that were once at the same level as the ocean but are now up to 100 feet high due to the land coming up."

Using a technique known as optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), Simms and DeWitt will date the beach deposits to determine how sea level has changed over the last several thousand years. A smaller, exploratory NSF award in 2007 proved OSL is effective in dating Antarctic beach deposits. Although OSL has been utilized to date the last sunlight exposure and deposition of loose sediment grains, Simms and DeWitt are the first to use OSL dating techniques on solid rocks from the Antarctic.

Determining the past thickness of the Antarctic ice sheet is critical in understanding how ice sheets respond to sea level and climate change, Simms said.

The team will spend a majority of their six-week trip in Marguerite Bay, the past location of one of the continent's northernmost ice streams. They will travel aboard the R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer - a large 300-foot icebreaker that will leave them at different spots along the coast to collect samples. Simms said the team will even camp among the penguins for several days.

Oklahoma State University

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