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The Ice Sheet Stability (iSTAR) programme

Background and objectives

The iSTAR programme aims to measure the rate that ice is being lost from the West Antarctic ice sheet, and to improve our understanding of what might be driving this loss how it is changing over time. The rate of loss of water from ice in glaciers in the Antarctic (and Greenland) is more than the amount of water being deposited in these areas by precipitation. This has changed our understanding of these systems and the rate of ice loss is a matter of interest for sea level and climate research. Improving our understanding of the processes and impacts of changes to these systems is vital for better predictions for sea level rise in the future and will feed in to climate research. This programme combines scientific research of glaciers and the surrounding ocean environment (including how they impact each other). Research about the oceans was focused on the Amundsen Sea Sector of West Antarctica with instruments deployed from the research ship RRS James Clark Ross. Research about the ice was focused on Pine Island Glacier, Thwaites Glacier and Union Glacier with measurements taken during two expeditions across the ice. This programme was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

The programme is split in to four projects:

Ocean2ice: Processes and variability of ocean heat transport toward ice shelves in the Amundsen Sea Embayment (iSTAR A)

Ocean under ice: Ocean circulation and melting beneath the ice shelves of the south-eastern Amundsen Sea (iSTAR B)

Dynamic ice: Dynamical control on the response of Pine Island Glacier (iSTAR C)

Ice loss: The contribution to sea-level rise of the Amundsen Sea sector of Antarctica (iSTAR D)


The iSTAR research programme is managed by British Antarctic Survey (BAS) on behalf of NERC. Operational support, in the form of logistics planning and infrastructure, and Communication and Knowledge Exchange support are provided by BAS. There are four science projects and participants in these projects represent the following organisations:

  • British Antarctic Survey
  • National Oceanography Centre
  • Newcastle University
  • Scott Polar Research Institute
  • University College London
  • University of Bristol
  • University of East Anglia
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Leeds
  • University of Southampton
  • University of St. Andrews
  • University of Tasmania
  • University of Washington

Fieldwork and data collection

A wide range of data parameters were collected for this programme. Physical and chemical measurements of the ocean close to and next to the ice shelf were made using instruments deployed from ship, on moorings, on autonomous platforms and seal tags. Measurements were also made of the glaciers and ice shelfs including radar and seismic surveys and ice cores. There were also meteorological and atmospheric measurements taken. For more information about the data collected on each of the four projects see the project web pages.

Data management

Data management for ocean data will be done by the British Oceanographic Data Centre whilst ice data will be managed by the Polar Data Centre.

For more information about iSTAR programme see the: iSTAR Programme Website