Rebecca Rixon in Antarctica.

Exeter student inspired by Polar explorer ancestry

University of Exeter student Rebecca Rixon has shared the first findings of her research on the Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet.

A PhD Geography student, Rebecca presented her work at the International Symposium on Antarctic Earth Sciences 2011, held in Edinburgh. 

Rebecca has followed in the footsteps of her ancestor Edgar Evans, a member of Scott’s Polar expedition, by visiting Antarctica for her research.

Edgar Evans was a key member of Captain Scott’s team on the British Antarctic Expedition 1910. Originally from Swansea, Edgar Evans was the first of Scott’s party to die on the famous expedition to the South Pole.

During her undergraduate degree Rebecca spent six months studying on the remote Arctic Island of Svalbard. At the start of her PhD, she completed her first Antarctic field season, achieving her lifetime ambition to work in both the Arctic and Antarctic.

Rebecca collected rock samples from mountains protruding through the ice sheet. The rocks were then analysed in the laboratory and calculations were undertaken to work out how long the rocks had been free of ice cover.

Through their laboratory analysis of the rock samples, Rebecca and her team have discovered that some mountain tops in the Antarctic Peninsula have remained ice-free for millions of years. Their findings not only help us understand how the Antarctic landscape evolved over millions of years, but could also help us predict the impacts of contemporary climate change on Antarctica’s environment.

University of Exeter Geography PhD student Rebecca Rixon said: "Our data provides a new insight into the history of the Antarctic Peninsula and how it has responded to past changes in climate. An improved understanding of the past ice sheet and its response to climate change will help to improve predictions regarding future change in Antarctica and, hence, changes to global sea-level.”

During their time in Antarctica, Rebecca and her field assistant spent a month camping high up on the ice shelf, several-hours flight time away from the nearest Antarctic base.

She added: “We experienced harsh weather and spent four-and-a-half days unable to leave the tent due to white-out conditions. Our only communication with the outside world was by satellite phone and a radio and we lived on freeze-dried food, which we rehydrated by melting snow. Despite all that, it was an amazing experience.”

The International Symposium for Antarctic Earth Sciences was held from 11 to 15 July in Edinburgh. Results from ambitious research missions to discover what lies beneath Antarctica’s vast ice sheets have been presented and discussed, including the latest reports from scientific investigations into Antarctica’s ‘ghost mountains’, hidden lakes and streams. Clues to the Earth’s past climate reaching back millions of years are revealed by experts involved in international ocean drilling projects to extract seabed sediments that help scientist understand what’s happening to the Earth today. The role that the Antarctic ice sheet plays in regulating the earth’s climate and the likely impact on sea-level rise is the urgent focus of attention during the week-long symposium.

It is the first time in over 20 years that the symposium has been held in the UK. It is hosted jointly by British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey and the University of Edinburgh.


Date: 15 July 2011

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