The frozen desert, which is home to more than 1,000 scientists and reaches blistering temperatures of -90C, has played a pivotal role in demonstrating the effects of climate change over the years. Scientists are able to use huge drills, tipped with diamonds, to dig deep below this icy continent to tell the story of its history. It was revealed during Nova’s ‘The Secret of Antarctica’ how the Antarctica Drilling Project (ANDRILL) is able to gather information about past periods of global warming and cooling.
The 2015 series revealed: “There’s not a minute to waste because the Antarctic research season is so short.
“The crews work around the clock to recover cores of rock that trace Antarctica’s ancient past.
“The powerful drill bores down over three-quarters of a mile, bringing up 12 feet of core at a time.
“Each foot averaging a thousand years of climate history.”
Richard Levy, who works on the project, revealed how the drill marked the start of what promises to be a big achievement.
He said: “It’s an astonishing feat – it’s quite amazing when you think about where we are and what we are doing.
“We’ve got a drill rig, a 60 tonne to 90 tonnes with all the equipment for a drill rig sitting behind us on eight meters of sea ice above 38 metres of water.
“And then we are drilling down into the seafloor below there with a three to four-inch diameter pipe that’s turning round and round like a piece of spaghetti hanging down through the water and into the ground.
“Then we’re bringing the core up from deep within the Earth – anything can go wrong at any minute with this process.”
The same series revealed how ice sheet melting could see New York flooded by the end of the century.
A new NASA-backed study eerily warned the icy continent has reached a tipping point, where the effects are now “past the point of no return”.
While the damage is already done, scientists are warning it is now about damage limitation.
Robin Bell, from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said: “Most people don’t think that changes in Antarctica matter to them.
“But when we look at New York City and we look at it as if it is from the front of the ocean – it matters.
“If Antarctica melts, the sea level goes up 12 storeys in New York City.
“It would raise the sea level in Manhattan by about 19 feet.”