union for life

Case study 10

Dr Louise Sime

British Antarctic Survey

Picture of ice crystals

Dr Louise Sime explains her fears for vital work by the British Antarctic Survey as well as the impact that leaving the EU could have on individual staff.

Dr Louise Sime is a paleoclimate modeller at the iconic British Antarctic Survey. Her research group uses ice core samples to infer climate change over hundreds of thousands of years.

As ice sheets build up, the ice preserves an incremental record of climate conditions. Paleoclimatologists analyse the chemistry of the water, air bubbles and other inclusions to diagnose environmental chemistry and temperature.
Louise uses model simulations of water isotopes to help interpret ice core observations. “Isotopes in the ice represent a long-term proxy record of climate. The simulations help us understand how ice sheets, sea ice and climate behaved in the past,” she says.

The ice core data allow Louise to evaluate how well her climate model behaves.

The BAS group’s climate simulations are helping to predict polar change over the coming century. They use ice core data from the Last Interglacial period, 130,000 to 116,000 years ago, to test their ability to predict a relatively warm climate.

“The Last Interglacial lets us evaluate predictions of critical changes in both polar climate and sea level.”
During her ten years at BAS, Louise has worked on the multinational European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA).

“Drilling and measuring major Antarctic ice cores is expensive, and logistically complex. It benefits hugely from cross-European collaboration.

“The prospect of Brexit has major implications for how ice core science is done in the UK. It has also created uncertainty about whether we should commit time and resources to writing new EU proposals.”

EPICA has produced an incredible wealth of data representing environmental change. Drilling for ice cores reached a depth of more than 3km. The core record dates back 740,000 years, showing eight glacial cycles.
Buoyed by the project’s success, the EU has now funded an even more ambitious project to find the “oldest ice” in Antarctica. The multinational team hopes to acquire an ice core record dating back 1.5 million years and the scientists at BAS plan to be a part of it, she says.

Antarctic research is a global enterprise. Almost half of Louise’s research group at BAS are from other EU countries.

Louise’s concerns about Brexit hit even closer to home. “My partner is a German scientist, and we have two British-German children.

“The slide in the value of the pound since the referendum has already affected our domestic finances. It seems likely that the UK will have less money to spend on science as a result of longer-term economic impacts. The uncertainty and worry for the future affect our lives on a day-to-day basis.”

  • www.bas.ac.uk/project/beyond-epica