Antarctic Drilling Program


Date of this Version



Published in Eos, Vol. 88, No. 50, 11 December 2007


Antarctica’s late Cenozoic (the past ~15 million years) climate history is poorly known from direct evidence, owing to its remoteness, an extensive sea ice apron, and an ice sheet cover over the region for the past 34 million years. Consequently, knowledge about the role of Antarctica’s ice sheets in global sea level and climate has relied heavily upon interpretations of oxygen isotope records from deep-sea cores. Whereas these isotopic records have revolutionized our understanding of climate-ice-ocean interactions, questions still remain about the specific role of Antarctic ice sheets in global climate. Such questions can be addressed from geological records at the marine margin of the ice sheets, recovered by drilling from floating ice platforms [e.g., Davey et al., 2001; Harwood et al., 2006; Barrett, 2007].

During the austral summer of 2006–2007, a new Antarctic geological drilling program (ANDRILL) successfully recovered a 1285- meter-long record of climate and ice sheet variability spanning the past 13 million years from beneath the McMurdo Ice Shelf (Figure 1). The cores contain sedimentary rocks deposited by the ice sheets grounded in the sea, and they provide the best direct evidence to date of past Antarctic ice sheet and climate fluctuations for this period of Earth’s history.

The new geological evidence is being used to provide direct physical calibration
for deep-sea isotope records, low-latitude continental margin sea level records, and numerical climate and ice sheet models, especially for times of past global warmth. Such analogs are becoming increasingly important because of the difficulties in predicting the dynamic response of ice sheets to global warming [Vaughan and Athern, 2007]. In this article we summarize the initial results of the ANDRILL program’s first drilling project from the McMurdo Ice Shelf (MIS) site [Naish et al., 2007a, 2007b], with an emphasis on the potential of the record for improving our knowledge of Antarctica’s influence on, and response to, global climate change.