Intense warm climate intervals--warmer than scientists thought possible--have occurred in the Arctic over the past 2.8 million years. That result comes from the first analyses of the longest sediment cores ever retrieved on land. They were obtained from beneath remote, ice-covered Lake El'gygytgyn (pronounced El'gee-git-gin) ("Lake E") in the northeastern Russian Arctic. Find out more in this news release.
Credit: Pavel Minyuk
The U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) has drilled and recovered its longest ice core to date from the polar regions, officially hitting 3,331 meters. It took five years working from a lonely field camp in one of the stormiest regions of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) to extract the ice, which contains clues about Earth's past climate from the last 100,000 years. Find out more in this news item.
Credit: U.S. Antarctic Program photo by Kendrick Taylor
A research team investigating the last 100,000 years of Earth's climate history reached an important milestone in January 2011 when they completed the main ice core to a depth of 3,331 meters (10,928 feet) at the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide. As part of the project, the team has been drilling deep into the ice at the WAIS Divide site and recovering and analyzing ice cores for clues about how changes in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have influenced the Earth's climate over time. Find out more in this news release.
Credit: Kendrick Taylor, Chief Scientist, WAIS Divide Ice Core Project Research Professor, Desert Research Institute, Nevada System of Higher Education
An international research effort on the Greenland ice sheet set a record for single-season deep ice-core drilling in the summer of 2009, recovering more than a mile of ice core that is expected to help scientists better assess the risks of abrupt climate change in the future. Find out more in this news release.
Credit: NEEM ice core drilling project, www.neem.ku.dk
A five-nation scientific team has published new evidence that even a slight rise in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, one of the gases that drives global warming, affects the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). The massive WAIS covers the continent on the Pacific side of the Transantarctic Mountains. Any substantial melting of the ice sheet would cause a rise in global sea levels. Find out more in this news release.
Credit: Peter West, National Science Foundation
A team of scientists has successfully deployed an autonomous robot submarine on six missions beneath an Antarctic ice shelf using sonar scanners to map the seabed, part of a larger effort to understand the dynamics of the world's massive ice sheets. Find out more in this news release.
Credit: James Perrett, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton
Scientific research and the operational support of that research are the principal activities supported by the United States government in Antarctica. The goals are to expand fundamental knowledge of the region, to foster research on global and regional problems of current scientific importance, and to use the region as a platform from which to support research. For projects involving fieldwork, the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) supports only that research that can be done exclusively in Antarctica or that can be done best from Antarctica. NSF funds and manages the USAP. The Division of Antarctic Sciences (ANT) is one of two science divisions in NSF's Office of Polar Programs.
International Collaboration and Education in Ice Core Science (ICEICS) is funded by the Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE) and the Office of Polar Programs (OPP) at NSF, through the Partnerships in International Research and Education (PIRE) program. The aim of the ICEICS project is to provide a continuous view of Earth's climate for the past 800,000 years, based on analysis of dust and trace gases found in ancient ice cores taken from Antarctica and Greenland.
The U.S research community is conducting a deep ice coring project in West Antarctica for studies of climate, ice sheet history and cryobiology. This project is collecting a deep ice core from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) ice flow divide.
October 1, 2012
National Ice Core Lab Stores Valuable Ancient Ice
Lab supplies Arctic, Antarctic ice cores critical to climate research
It's a freezing cold day inside the National Ice Core Laboratory (NICL) in Denver, Colo., as it is every day of the year. That's because the NICL is a facility for storing and studying ice cores recovered from the polar regions of the world. It's minus 23.3 degrees Celsius (minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit) inside, so everyone is bundled up in ski parkas, insulated gloves and boots. And, saws are buzzing, as scientists from all over the U.S. are measuring and cutting pieces of precious Antarctic glacier ice to take back to their labs for research.
"I'm here to cut gas samples out of this core," says Murat Aydin, a chemist who's visiting from the University of California, Irvine.
"I'm looking at the mineralogy of the ice," says Donald Voigt, a geoscientist from Penn State.
"I'm studying the stable water isotopes that tell us about past temperature changes," adds Brad Markle, a geochemist from the University of Washington.
While their research goals vary, all the scientists are here on this day for same thing--ice cores from the WAIS Divide Ice Core project. WAIS stands for West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The WAIS Divide is a high point on the ice sheet where the ice begins to flow in different directions.
"We started this ice core project in 2005," says manager Mark Twickler. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Twickler and a team of scientists, engineers and support personnel traveled to the bottom of the world to drill and bring back these ice cores, which are perfectly preserved records of the distant past.
The ice cores were taken from a giant ancient Antarctic ice sheet more than 70,000 years old. An ice sheet is a permanent layer of ice covering an extensive tract of land. The team drilled down more than two miles to retrieve the oldest pieces of ice in the sheet. The cores were carefully packed and shipped back to the U.S. and stored in a giant freezer at the NICL. The temperature in the freezer is minus 40 degrees Celsius (and Fahrenheit), and it contains more than 18,000 meters, or ten miles, worth of ice cores.
Twickler says ice core layers are like tree rings because each layer represents a year of weather. "The unique thing about polar glaciers is that each year brings another layer of snow. So, you get one year's worth of snow on top of the previous year. The layers compress, so everything that fell out of the atmosphere, including dust, salt from the ocean and volcanic ash, is preserved in the ice core," explains Twickler.
"There are times where it snows less for a couple years, and then it snows more for a few years, and by looking at the composition of the snow, we can tell what the temperatures were, how rough the oceans were around Antarctica, and even how dusty it was in Australia. We can tell whether the dust came from Australia or South America, so in that way, we know the winds were stronger and drier in one region, or the other. We can also look at the electrical properties of the ice from year to year. So, it's basically like looking at a weather report, year to year, going back in time," continues Twickler.
"The National Ice Core Lab is a world class facility that has been in operation for close to 20 years now, as well as a unique training ground for students, some of whom began as undergraduates and have now gone on to graduate school because of their experience at the lab," says Julie Palais, program manager for the Antarctic glaciology program within the NSF's Office of Polar Programs. "In addition, the facility houses one of the most unique collections of scientific samples in the world, and group tours provide a wonderful opportunity for members of the public and school children to learn about the important work being done on samples from both polar regions." Arctic as well as Antarctic samples are stored at the facility.
Some scientists study the bubbles trapped within the cores--each a tiny pocket of air, frozen in time. "We can take those bubbles and measure a variety of gases that were in the atmosphere at the time the bubbles were formed," says Twickler.
The National Ice Core Laboratory is operated and maintained through an interagency agreement between NSF and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
"The NICL facility provides the ice core research community with the capability to conduct examinations and measurements on ice cores, while preserving the integrity of these cores in a safeguarded, temperature-controlled environment. This is accomplished with multiple backups built into the refrigeration system and a 24/7 alarm system to alert us of any problems that occur," explains Betty Adrian, NICL acting technical director.
USGS scientist Joan Fitzpatrick is looking at WAIS Divide ice core samples to research how ice sheets respond to changing climate. In order to do that, she creates thin wafers of ice from the core and then places the wafer samples under a microscope to analyze individual ice crystals.
"If the climate is warming, is the ice sheet going to get thinner overall? Is the ice sheet going to fall apart around the edges or is it suddenly going to slide off the continent?" asks Fitzpatrick. "We really don't have a good handle on how the ice sheet as a whole will respond in a changing climate. The water that comes out of the melting ice sheets melts into the oceans and can raise sea level. This is a key issue for the public," she adds.
"These icy blasts from the past are helping researchers better understand the mechanics of climate change," says Linda Morris, education program manager for the U.S. Ice Drilling Program. "Ice cores give us this long historical record of what naturally has been occurring to the Earth's climate for hundreds of thousands of years. More recent patterns emerging from times when humans have inhabited the Earth can then be evaluated against this long term data to more meaningfully assess the impact of our behaviors on climate. It's an exciting inquiry and an important one if we are to be good stewards of our environment into the future."
Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.