Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Scientists worried about global warming have embarked on a project to preserve the world’s glacial ice core record, by air freighting selected ice cores to a storage facility in Antarctica.
Scientists fly glacial ice to south pole to unlock secrets of global warming
In a few weeks, researchers will begin work on a remarkable scientific project. They will drill deep into the Col du Dôme glacier on Mont Blanc and remove a 130 metre core of ice. Then they will fly it, in sections, by helicopter to a laboratory in Grenoble before shipping it to Antarctica. There the ice core will be placed in a specially constructed vault at the French-Italian Concordia research base, 1,000 miles from the south pole.
The Col du Dôme ice will become the first of several dozen other cores, extracted from glaciers around the world, that will be added to the repository over the next few years. The idea of importing ice to the south pole may seem odd – the polar equivalent of taking coals to Newcastle – but the project has a very serious aim, researchers insist.
Earth’s glaciers are now melting at a unprecedented rate as a result of global warming – and that poses a serious scientific problem. As ice forms on a glacier, it encloses small bubbles of air that contain a sample of the atmosphere at that time. From these samples, scientists can measure atmospheric concentrations of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane over periods that range from hundreds to tens of thousands of years into the past.
“Ice cores are like books,” said project leader Jérôme Chappellaz, of the Glaciology Laboratory in Grenoble. “Each year a new layer of ice is put down and adds a page to that book, one that records data from a particular year of the glacier’s life. It tells us what concentration of gases and pollutants were in the atmosphere at a particular time. And the deeper we go down into the glacier, the further back in time we travel. Unfortunately, as our glaciers melt, the pages of these books – both the ancient and the more recent ones – are being destroyed.”
The Guardian story also provides a link to a more complete description of Jérôme’s “saving ice in danger” project.
I can’t help thinking that Jérôme’s team could have saved some money, by renting a cold storage room for a few decades. But an urgent rescue flight to Antarctica, to save large lumps of ice, is probably more fun, and will provide great footage for project film maker Luc Jacquet, who in 2005 produced the award winning documentary “March of the Penguins”.