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Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Research project: A journey from icehouse to greenhouse and back again...a story of Antarctic ice sheet stability and CO2

Currently Active: 

A "permanent" ice sheet is thought to have existed on Antarctica since Eocene-Oligocene transition (~34 Ma). Results of ice sheet modelling experiments suggest that once large ice sheets have grown on East Antarctica, due to a powerful hysteresis effect, they are inherently stable and consequently high levels of CO2 are needed in order to initiate deglaciation. However growing evidence from a number of palaeorecords suggest that the West and East Antarctic ice sheets may have retreated during warm intervals of the Cenozoic in the absence of big changes in atmospheric CO2. With carbon dioxide levels presently rising in the atmosphere, it is more important than ever to fully characterise the relationship between ice sheets and CO2.


To better define the relationship between global ice volume and CO2 during the Cenozoic.

  • Initially the target will be the Mid-Miocene Climatic Optimum.
  • Other problem targets include the rebound out of the Oligocene-Miocene boundary and MIS 31.


Example of a microplankton called foraminifera: Globigerina, diameter 0.5mm (Photo: Hannes Grobe)
Fossilised microplankton
Modelling showing accumilation of ice on Antarctica as CO2 declines: (a) Early Cenozoic ice-free (m above sea level). (B to F) acculation of ice as CO2 declines. After DeConto and Pollard (2003)
Ice accumilation with Co2 decline


This project uses the chemistry of trace metals incorporated into the calcite of fossilised microplankton (see above) to gain a better understanding of ocean pH, CO2 and ice volume during time intervals of the past.

Key Contacts

Miss Rosanna Greenop (Postgraduate research student)

Dr Gavin Foster (Project Supervisor) 

Prof Paul Wilson (Project Supervisor)

PhDs and Other Opportunities


Associated research themes

Past Present and Future Environmental Change

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