Air Freighting ice to Antarctica: Your Tax Dollars at Work


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.”

Read more:

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”.

Just in case you think American taxpayers won’t be helping to fund this adventure, think again – according to “saving ice in danger”, the project is backed by UNESCO and the IPCC.

53 thoughts on “Air Freighting ice to Antarctica: Your Tax Dollars at Work

    • I think it makes sense, if all required facilities and the expertise are already down there, just don’t let prof Calamity Chris Turney (or was it turkey) get anywhere near it.

      • It only makes sense if you buy the preposterous notion that ice core data represents historical atmospheric gas composition. But there are severe problems with that.

        Ice isn’t like glass; ice is gas permeable. For short periods that can be ignored, but recent attempts have been made to make statements about samples estimated to be on the order of 800,000 years old.

        Carbon dioxide is a water (and water ice) soluble gas; it migrates in ice. Given time, it moves. It attempts to reach equilibrium. The entire idea that gas concentrations are literally “frozen” in ice is a fantasy.

        This project assumes ice is a permanent record of history but it isn’t. The project is a complete waste of time and money.

      • Seriously. Consider the source; The Guardian at this point has as much credibility as the National Enquirer. (Oops! I mean, the Globe). ;-)

      • According to a few people I know that read it, the National Enquirer rarely misses, it’s just about stuff that is too “embarrassing” for most.

    • Where is the grant money in that?
      A $5 book and a $2 pen, no accompanying flights to the Antarctic, no study tours of the Bahamas to find the best freezing units, no lecture tours to tell other freeloaders how clever they are.

    • I think that the idea is to preserve it for when better analysis techniques become available. The scientist’s dilemma. Do you get results now, or wait for better ones later?

  1. I presume they’re flying the cores down there on albatrosses, rather than CO2-spewing airplanes… oh wait, no, they’re not consistent. (but it certainly is convenient to store cores down there, out of the way of spying eyes).

  2. Do you think that In a hundred years some huckster will be trying to sell tour tickets to our great grand children to see these old ice cubes?

  3. This is idiotic “ice cores are like books”. What is wrong with books both digital and paper? ROFL

    This is idiotic, maybe they are trying to be green by not needing energy to keep the cores cool in a warmer climate.

    “Glaciers melting faster than ever”? It’s comedy at this point, that kind of claim used to irk me, now it is just pity I feel

    • Well if you want to preserve ice cores for ever (except the end date) why on earth would you ship them to some place where ice is melting at unprecedented catastrophic rates ??

      Sounds like an icicide expedition to me.

      Well I suppose since they are digging them up, they might as well put them some place safe. So how would you supply continuous reliable electricity to the South Pole (well I guess they missed it by a thousand miles) so that you can keep these ice cores in a Temperature controlled environment ?


  4. There are people with no energy now, no food, nothing. This is where millions go, well done.. what a sham.

    The money spent on climate change in 2014 could have almost wiped out world poverty as much as 50% in one swoop

  5. What was wrong with this place kept cool by coal refrigeration plants.

    “Spitsbergen was considered ideal because it lacked tectonic activity and had permafrost, which aids preservation. Its being 130 metres (430 ft) above sea level will keep the site dry even if the ice caps melt.[9] Locally mined coal provides power for refrigeration units that further cool the seeds to the internationally recommended standard of −18 °C (−0.4 °F).[10] If the equipment fails, at least several weeks will elapse before the facility rises to the surrounding sandstone bedrock’s temperature of −3 °C (27 °F).[4]”

    • I was thinking it would have been big of them to offer some space to the seed repository, but that (and the core’s) may violate UN rules that restrict Antarctica to research purposes. Maybe they didn’t qualify that as “Antarctic research purposes.”

      I’m not sure what temperatures cores should be stored at, but I saw some in cold storage at the Army’s Cold Region Research and Engineering Lab in Hanover, NH. It wasn’t as cold as I expected, -10°C comes to mind.

      • Ric Werme,

        Cores at Antarctica are placed in holes in the ground at an average of -20°C for about a year relaxation after drilling and increase about 50% in volume after the deep ice pressure relieve… -10°C or higher may be right for simple storage, as long as the ice doesn’t melt it is OK…

        I suppose that is what they will do: cold enough without any energy needed. If that saves energy at all? I haven’t seen any energy balance of flying the cores to Antarctica and what is needed to keep it refrigerated at some place in France (which has 70% power from nuclear)…

  6. You couldn’t make that up. You couldn’t make up this either:

    The French institute for agriculture studies (INRA) produced a “study” proving that fertilizers have net negative value, because of the such externalities as the entertaining value of birds and the cost of having to buy organic food to avoid these.

    Yep, organic agriculture is a negative externality of intensive agriculture now in France according to research. (I guess next month the cost of solar panels will be an externality of oil and nuclear fission.)

    And we thought we reached bottom when unions at INRA made excuses for “civic inspection”, aka the violent entry and destruction of research by “non violent” anti-GM concerned hooligans.

    I am afraid France is Soviet Union now.

  7. Something tells me this has more to do with preserving the CAGW gravy train than preserving some “special” ice.

  8. Why would they want to preserve the evidence that both temperature and CO2 levels has been higher and more unprecedented then now?

  9. “…it encloses small bubbles of air that contain a sample of the atmosphere at that time…”

    I wonder what effect the altitude of the ride will have on those tiny bubbles?

  10. Great way to depressurise the ice and destroy it. Fortunately, that will justify another expedition to get a new core.

    • The Inuit are too suspect about buying stuff from us, after they bought those refrigerators.

      • No indigenous people in Antarctica…just saying.

        If you took the ice cores north of the Artic Circle, shaved the ice and cover it with sweet fruity syrup and call it a SnoCone I would bet you could at least trade some ice with Eskimos for some whale blubber and seal meat.

  11. No, they just expect that green policies will destroy the European electric grid, so any artificial cold storage in Europe will be unreliable. :-)

  12. I guess they don’t worry about the “carbon footprint” on this type of scheme. Saving the planet and all.

    • “I guess they don’t worry about the “carbon footprint” on this type of scheme.”

      Of course not!

      Using fossil fuel, non sustainable energy, and all that, is only bad when you do it, not when they do it.

  13. “Or perhaps they foresee the possibility of terrorist attacks compromising the power grid.”

    The “loi de transition énergétique” which says that nuclear power, which produces about 80% of our electric energy, should be capped to 50% in the future, will compromise the power grid if it isn’t repelled, without any help from terrorists.

  14. I’ve been on or near the Col du Dome a 1/2 dozen times, it’s on generally steep terrain, and is extremely active, both from season to season, and in terms of movement throughout the year. I doubt that there’s much really old ice anywhere, since it has a nasty habit of fracturing from the bottom up. And I’m pretty sure that wherever you take a core it would not be representative of any other core. This sounds like a remake of “Idiots Abroad” with none of the laughs.

    Or the alternative theory: Take ice cores where you know they will change, then when you observe the change, scream “It’s worse than we thought!”

  15. If you keep the samples at Grenoble, no one gets a free trip to Antarctica to study them. They’d have to study them in cruddy ol’ Grenoble.

    I wonder how this special ice goes with Tanqueray?

  16. “Saving ice in danger…” — in danger of the world “reading” it and realizing what most of WUWTers already knew: ice core proxies, using a damping equation such as that described in the below Murry Salby lecture, say: CO2 lags temperature by a quarter cycle (or about 800 years).

    Dr. Murry Salby, Hamburg, Germany, April, 2013


    [4:25] Proxy evidence of past atmospheric composition: ice cores (air bubbles in column sink under pressure of ice above them)

    [6:47] CO2 and atmospheric temperature have strong coherence (.8) throughout the entire proxy record (when longer than 10,000 years); if one changes, so must the other.

    [14:03] CO2 lags temp. by a quarter cycle (i.e., in quadrature [14:03]), using cosine and sine, lags by 90 degrees).

    [14:40] CO2 levels in ice change over time (due to natural modification and to measurement error).

    [15:56] Conservation Equation (includes non-conservative factor, i.e., CO2 sinks).

    [23:30] The Conservation Equation includes the total or “effective” damping from atmospheric damping (i.e., non-conservative influences) of CO2 in the firn (when ice at top) and damping in the ice as it descends.

    [28:50] Incorporating depth (i.e., time) in ice transforms conservation equation to the Diffusion Equation – now one can see that the proxy CO2 underestimation of atmospheric CO2 increases with frequency. ***

    {Cross covariance of Temp. and CO2 equation at 18:02}


    Ice cores are like books.

    Dr. Chappellaz

    Yes. but this statement:

    Earth’s glaciers are now melting at a unprecedented rate as a result of global warming

    shows they can’t read.

    • Janice, thanks for the video. Unfortunately, I am allergic to videos, as they drive me mad. First, things in papers have footnotes so we can inspect the data. Videos, the guy is just going quack quack with no citations.

      Also, they are way too slow for me, I don’t have time to waste a half hour listening to somebody drone on and on, boooooring.

      So I’ll ask you what I’ve asked others … has Prof. Salby ever, you know, written his ideas down with citations and the like? I’ve looked with no success.

      Best regards,


    • …and the “Name our ship” our ship website is offline while essential updates are being made … “in the meantime please enjoy watching the baby penguin while you wait.”

      I was going to suggest the name “SS Boondoggle”, not only because of the future plans for research, but because their primary historic research claim to fame:

      “British Antarctic Survey scientists’ discovery of the ozone hole in the 1980s, following many decades of monitoring, was crucial to the Montreal Protocol, one of the most successful international agreements ever. British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientists were not only leaders in monitoring stratospheric ozone but also made important breakthroughs in understanding the atmospheric chemistry that led to ozone depletion. Our continued investment in ozone research still provides abundant evidence for policymaking.”

  17. “Saving Ice in Danger”

    Ooooohhh sounds so dramatic.

    “Saving the Polar Bears” I guess is losing its cool hip factor.

    Not that preserving ice cores is a bad idea, it’s just all the propaganda around it that requires a barf bag.

  18. “I can’t help thinking that Jérôme’s team could have saved some money, by renting a cold storage room for a few decades.”

    Surely the energy cost for transporting the cores to Antarctica is dwarfed by the energy cost of decades of cold storage.

    If the dollar cost of transport to Antarctica is more, that’s probably just because of red tape. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of backup power to make sure cores in cold storage are not lost to a power failure.

    “But an urgent rescue flight to Antarctica”

    It’s being planed well in advance. While they will have a tight time window for the flight once they get that far, it’s hardly an urgent rescue flight.

    • MattS March 28, 2016 at 10:05 am

      “I can’t help thinking that Jérôme’s team could have saved some money, by renting a cold storage room for a few decades.”

      Surely the energy cost for transporting the cores to Antarctica is dwarfed by the energy cost of decades of cold storage.

      Mmmm … I’d have to see the numbers on that. Once something is well insulated and frozen, it doesn’t take much energy to keep it cold.

      Also, presumably the cores are still being studied … which means that instead of being able to study them locally, everyone interested will have to go to Antarctica and spend weeks there to study them, more fossil fuel costs for their travel, plus piles of red tape. We’re talking multiple trips, not just one to move the ice.

      And while it may not cost much to keep ice cores cold in Antarctica, it takes a lot of energy to keep scientists warm there, not to mention the energy costs of feeding them there, where all food is flown in …


  19. I live in Newcastle and there used to be a thriving coal industry here. hence the expression taking coals to Newcastle; an exercise in futility! The coal became too expensive to mine, so this industry has long gone.Thanks though to loopy warmists we can replace that expression with: “Taking ice cores to Antarctica”

  20. Anything to justify intercontinental air trips with thousands of tons of CO2 emissions in the name of saving the earth…

  21. I’ve been very skeptical of the notion that a bubble of air trapped in ice could provide any meaningful knowledge about the state of the globe.

    In my meager attempts to learn about these ice cores, I’ve read that there are continual forces acting on these bubbles even though we consider them trapped. Scientists use reconstructive methods on their measurements to compensate for these forces that have been acting for extensive periods of time. In effect, it seemed to me that these ice core bubbles reflect more of a 300 year global average rather than a discrete snapshot of environmental conditions. Yet we compare these values to specific annual measurements of today.

    If we already have tens of thousands of ice cores from around the world stored in a facility in Colorado, why do we continue to drill holes in the very ice that we are told is so necessary for our survival?

    The core drillers need to fill the deep holes with a liquid while they’re drilling to keep the drill-bit from freezing in place, they use either kerosene or n-butyl acetate. These are the environmentalists doing this, using fossil fuels to disparage fossil fuels.

  22. “Earth’s glaciers are now melting at a unprecedented rate as a result of global warming …”.
    Preposterous, some glaciers are retreating some are advancing as they always have, NASA reports net gain of the Antarctic ice mass yet the above glib statement and others like it (“Antarctic sea ice extent continues to make headlines because it has grown even as much of the globe, and Antarctica itself, is warming …” WUWT March 24) are regularly made in the media and accepted without any substantiation whatsoever as in ‘everyone knows that’.

    • Finally, Chris Hanley said it: Preposterous!

      Again, some of these climate scientists assume too much. They think all the glaciers are melting. They think we are currently experiencing unprecedented atmospheric temperatures. They operate on false assumptions.

      These claims ought to be slapped down every time they are made. Thanks Chris.

  23. These folks are not stupid, liars yes but not stupid. Considering the future dilemma of preserving Ice core with refrigeration units powered by “green energy” invokes the specter of intermittent power supply issues and loss by melting. even they know what they propose for the future is untenable. The only solution is to store the cores where subzero is the zietgeist.

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