Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Willis to launch Antarctica expedition to study climate change impact

Willis Group has launched a scientific program in Antarctica, beginning this fall, with the goal of reaching a better understanding of climate change and to build resilience to weather-related risk.

Beginning in November and running to January 2014, the Willis Resilience Expedition will include three research projects focused on how the climate is changing in Antarctica, a region it says provides an important signal for the rate and scale of global environmental changes.

The expedition will be led by 19-year-old Parker Liautaud, a polar explorer and student at Yale University.

As part of the project, the team will test an automatic weather station called the ColdFacts-3000BX, which has never been tested in Antarctica. The station will be tested over five weeks. “This light and relatively inexpensive model could pave the way for additional cost-efficient and extensive surface observations in the Antarctic region,” Willis says.

The expedition will also include a “coast-to-pole-to-coast” survey of Antarctic stable isotope trends, with those observations providing new information on the rate of change in temperature in Antarctica over recent years, Willis says. Samples will be sent to the International Atomic Energy Agency Isotope Hydrology laboratories for analysis.
The team will also conduct a transcontinental study of the deposition rate of Tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. “The relatively short half-life of Tritium means it can be used to date snow and ice up to around 150 years old. The data can then be used to better understand the global water cycle, which is intrinsically linked to changes in climate,” Willis says.

The company says this will be the first large-scale study of Tritium in Antarctica since Tritium returned to normal levels following the spike caused by thermonuclear tests in the 1960s. The samples will be sent to GNS Science, a New Zealand Crown Research Institute, for analysis.

“We need to model the insurance industry's exposure to climate related risk to fulfill the stringent requirements of financial regulation,” Rowan Douglas, chairman of the Willis Research Network, noted in a statement about the expedition.

“We hope that the Willis Resilience Expedition's science and survey programme will provide scientists with important data to inform their models which, in turn, provide inputs to our own systems to estimate the risk of extreme events. The Antarctic is the canary in the cage for the pace and thresholds for wider global processes and impacts.”

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