APR 05, 2019 8:03 AM PDT

What can a 1.5-million-year-old ice core tell us?

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

After two years of extensive research, a team of international researchers has determined the exact location from which they will extract ancient ice samples, dated to be 1.5 million years of age—older than anything ever uncovered before. The Beyond EPICA-Oldest Ice (BE-OI) project aims to reveal more about the planet’s ancient climate while understanding more about the future of Earth’s climate. The team includes climate scientists from 14 institutions of 10 European Countries.

The drilling, which is not slated to begin until June of next year, will take place in an area of East Antarctica known as little Dome C where the ice is estimated to be 2.75 kilometers (1.6 mi.) thick. A press release from the British Antarctic Survey in 2016, when BE-OI initiated, cited Dome C as “one of the most hostile environments on the planet, and average annual temperatures are below -54 degrees Celsius.” Principal investigator and climate scientist Carlo Barbante predicts that it will take four years to complete the drilling. 

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Ice cores are cylindrical samples taken from ice sheets or high mountain glaciers. The layers within the samples are a record of what the Earth was like during the creation of that layer. The ice holds particles such as dust, ash, and pollen as well as small pockets of atmosphere. These air pockets allow scientists to measure the amount of greenhouse gases that was in the atmosphere when that layer formed.

Previous deep ice cores drilled by EPICA cover 800,000 years of climate and greenhouse-gas history. These cores demonstrated eight pronounced glacial cycles, each of which lasted up to 100,000 years. This new core will nearly double the climate record and extend to the Mid-Pleistocene Transition, which occurred one million years ago. Before this transition, glaciations happened every 40,000 years rather than 100,000, according to marine sediment records. Barbante told Nature that “a 1.5-million-year-old ice core will provide clues to what caused the transition—a major question in Earth and climate sciences.” This information will allow scientists to predict how ice sheets will behave in our warming world.

A press conference will be held next week (April 9) by the European Geosciences Union to share more specific information about the next steps of BE-OI.

Sources: Nature, British Antarctic Survey, The Science Times

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
You May Also Like
APR 12, 2020
Plants & Animals
APR 12, 2020
Oxpeckers May Help Black Rhinos Avoid Humans
If you’re a rhino of any kind, then you’d probably always want to keep your distance from humans. Rhinos hav ...
APR 28, 2020
Earth & The Environment
APR 28, 2020
Don't wake the Andes' supervolcano
A study published in the journal Scientific Reports showcases new insight regarding the supervolcano laying under the An ...
APR 30, 2020
Earth & The Environment
APR 30, 2020
NASA's Laser Satellites Help Scientists Quantify Sea Ice Loss
Global climate change is melting Earth’s ice, and a recent study from NASA details how the polar ice sheets have c ...
MAY 05, 2020
Plants & Animals
MAY 05, 2020
When Rival Baboon Troops Collide, Only Chaos Ensues
Troops of Hamadryas baboons can reach numbers of 400 strong without a single particular leader. Albeit large, these troo ...
MAY 12, 2020
Plants & Animals
MAY 12, 2020
It's Not a Choice - Cats Need Meat
While you or I might have the freedom of deciding between a carnivorous diet or going all out vegetarian, not all a ...
JUN 01, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
JUN 01, 2020
Perchlorate in Drinking Water is More Dangerous Than Thought
Perchlorate dissolves easily and can be found contaminating drinking water in the United States.
Loading Comments...