Antarctica is a continent covered by ice. Within its beauty of intricately shaped snow crystals precipitating from the air to sculpted icebergs floating in the ocean, the 4000-m thick ice sheet covering the continent contains stories of past climate. The ice records past volcanic events, contains samples of ancient dust and air, and tells us stories of our planets climate history. 

Over the last 10 years, a team of scientists, engineers, and support staff have worked together to drill an ice core 3405m deep through the center of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet - the WAIS Divide Ice Core. We have made new observations and generated new ideas about climate history from this ice core and related studies.


the velvet ice team is taking the next step : using the borehole to explore the ice deep within the ice sheet.

The science behind the WAIS Divide Ice Core: Project Overview and the WAIS Overarching Science

Many scientists have been involved in WAIS. The Velvet Ice team is just one team of several exploring the past climate history and linking to present and future ice sheet changes.  WAIS Divide Ice Core Website - the main website for the project.

VeLveT Ice - eVoLution of Fabric and Texture in Ice at WAIS Divide

Our team is working on understanding the relationship between ice microstructure, impurities, and ice flow and their connection to climate history

What does that mean? Ice in an ice sheet begins its journey as snowflakes and makes its way through the ice sheet as more snow is deposited on top of it, and the ice flows downward and outward towards the ocean. During their journey, ice crystals grow, shrink, and change their orientations. We are trying to find out exactly how these characteristics of the crystals are connected with the way the ice flows and the climate in the time period that the snow was deposited.

Collaborative Science In order to do this, we need to approach our question from many different angles. To see the change in crystal properties, we use data from others who have looked at "thin sections" of ice from the ice core in a microscope, and we will be helping another group use a sonic logger within the borehole.  To understand ice flow, we use an acoustic televiewer to examine how the borehole diameter and tilt changes over time, combined with GPS measurements at the surface. We are also partnered with a group that owns an ApRES (phase sensitive radar) which measures the vertical strain rates (changes in the height over certain depths) over large areas. We use reconstructions from the isotopes of the ice core to get a picture of the past climate. All of these pieces come together to give us a better understanding of what is happening in the ice at WAIS Divide. is the home of the U.S. Ice Drilling Program

The public outreach component of this organization has a wonderful website here. With lesson plans, learning expeditions, and links to lots of photo galleries, videos, and other sites. And more videos at NSF's Science360.

The Velvet Ice Project links science with art. Here is the introductory lesson plan we put together with a Teachers Guide  (it is also at the bottom of this page):