About the iSTAR Mission

Our mission is to improve understanding of what’s happening to the area of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet where the greatest rates of ice loss over the last decades have been observed. New knowledge about the stability of this ice sheet is critical for making better predictions about how the ocean and ice will respond to environmental change, and what impact this may have on future sea level.

iSTAR is an ambitious scientific programme funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). It brings together leading scientists from 11 UK universities and from British Antarctic Survey (BAS).

The six-year, £7.4 million programme is organised into four main research projects — each uses state-of-the art technologies to make new discoveries about the ocean or the ice.

Analysis of observations and measurements will create knowledge and understanding that will make a major contribution to the ongoing urgent international scientific effort to understand our changing world. The results of these investigations will bring many benefits to science, to policy and to economic decision-making — which will ultimately contribute to the well-being of our society.


About the science programme

iSTAR has two distinct aspects:

  • OCEAN-focussed investigations of the Amundsen Sea sector by research teams working onboard RRS James Clark Ross
  • ICE-focussed investigations on Pine Island Glacier, Thwaites Glacier and Union Glacier by research teams working and travelling over the ice by tractor traverse

Within the OCEAN-focussed investigation there are two projects:

  1. Ocean2ice: Processes and variability of ocean heat transport towards ice shelves in the Amundsen Sea Embayment (iSTAR A)
  2. Ocean under ice: Ocean circulation and melting beneath the ice shelves of the south-eastern Amundsen Sea (iSTAR B)

Within the ICE-focussed investigations there are two projects:

  1. Dynamic ice: Dynamic control of the response of Pine Island Glacier (iSTAR C)
  2. Ice loss: The contribution to sea-level rise of the Amundsen Sea sector of Antarctica (iSTAR D)

Programme timeline

All four projects start in the spring of 2013. Preparatory work to get the research infrastructure in place to support the projects took place during 2010-12:

OCEAN-focussed investigations:

  • 2010–2011 — November–January: Preliminary cruise on US research ship RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer, deploying two moorings
  • 2011 — November: Equipment sent ‘south’ for 2012 cruise
  • 2012 — January–March: Research cruise on the Korean research ship RV Araon to deploy further nine moorings in the Amundsen Sea
  • 2014 — January–March: Science cruise on RRS James Clark Ross, retrieving moorings, tagging seals, and performing further measurements using Autosub, gliders, and onboard instrumentation

ICE-focussed investigations:

  • 2011 — November: Equipment sent ‘south’ for 2012 field season
  • 2011 — December: Tractors “Polar 1” and “Polar 2” tested during the annual resupply of British Antarctic Survey’s Halley Research Station
  • 2012 — February: Tractors landed on Abbot Ice Shelf and driven to winter depot on King Peninsula
  • 2012 — November–December: Tractors moved the supply depots from Abbott Ice Shelf and King Peninsula to newly established depots at Kenfield Nunatak and on Pine Island Glacier in preparation for the 2013-15 traverses
  • 2013–14 — Antarctic Summer: First season of traverse
  • 2014–15 — Antarctic Summer: Second season of traverse

NERC is the largest funder of environmental science in the UK. We invest £330m in cutting-edge research, training and knowledge transfer in the environmental sciences. Our scientists study and monitor the whole planet, from pole to pole, and from the deep Earth and oceans to the edge of space. We address and respond to critical issues such as environmental hazards, resource security and environmental change. Through collaboration with other science disciplines, with UK business and with policy-makers, we make sure our knowledge and skills support sustainable economic growth and public wellbeing — reducing risks to health, infrastructure, supply chains and our changing environment.