APR 09, 2019 6:30 PM PDT

How deep can we go? Drilling for Antarctica's ice

After three years of searching, the international collaboration of scientists called “Beyond EPICA,” has found the perfect spot. For what, you ask? To drill for the world’s oldest ice core in Antarctica. “Beyond EPICA – Oldest Ice” is a project that brings together scientists from 14 institutions in 10 European countries with the intention of capturing 1.5 million-year-old ice in order to learn more about our planet’s climate history. EPICA stands for the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica.

Using radar technology and test drillings, the researchers were able to pinpoint their prime drilling location based on three aspects. Science Daily details the deciding factors: “1. the ice that is to be drilled into must be at least 1.5 million years old, i.e., the ice can’t be melting at the base despite the heat coming from the interior of the Earth; 2. the climate information must offer a good resolution, even in the oldest parts of the ice; 3. the layering in the deepest ice must be undisturbed.”

Based on these criteria, the scientists presented their selection at the annual conference of the European Geoscience Union (EGU) in Vienna. The spot they chose could not be more desolate, sitting roughly 30 kilometers from the Concordia Research Station on a precipice they’re calling “Little Dome C.” Concordia Research Station, run by Italy and France, has been involved in previous drilling for ice cores, most markedly a core that was drilled to a depth of 3270 meters and allowed scientists the capacity to reconstruct atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations throughout the last 800,000 years.

Hubertus Fischer from the Oeschger Center at the University of Bern and leader of the Swiss team representing Beyond EPICA speaks of the reconstructed climate model that came from that earlier ice core: "This time interval is characterized by ice ages that were interrupted by relatively short warm periods, like the one that we are currently experiencing, every 100,000 years or so. The CO2 concentrations also changed at the same time: low values in ice ages, high values in warm periods."

Little Dome C, the drilling spot chosen by the research team, is several hours by snowmobile from Concordia Research Station. Photo: Social Up

It's the treasure chest of information that the research teams were able to glean from that ice core that makes them want to dig even deeper, so to speak. "After having analyzed the 800,000-year-old samples taken from the EPICA ice cores, we believe that there is good reason to drill into ice that is at least 1.5 million years old in order to get more information," says the coordinator of Beyond EPICA -- Oldest Ice, Olaf Eisen from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Bremerhaven.

Pending the EU’s approval, the drilling will commence in November of 2021.

Sources: Science Daily

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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