Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

European lead in reading past climates from ice cores

11.10.2007
Climate change is a reality today, but how can we find out about the future dangers it poses? What we really need is a full record of the Earth’s climate for several hundred thousand years, complete with samples of air from different epochs that can be taken to the lab for analysis. Incredibly, this record exists, in the icecaps of the Arctic and Antarctic regions, and a European Science Foundation programme has a key role in deciphering it.

Professor Thomas Stocker of the University of Bern in Switzerland is one of the principal investigators of EPICA (European Programme for Ice Coring in Antarctica.) Stocker explains that EPICA, a joint ESF- European Commission (EC) effort funded by the Commission and 10 national agencies, has put Europe in a leading position in ice core research, in which specially designed drilling technology is used to obtain continuous ice sequences 3.8 thousands of metres in length.

A series of EPICA papers in prestigious journals such as Nature and Science are evidence of its world importance. The principle behind ice coring is straightforward. Snow falls in Greenland and the Antarctic, but conditions there are too cold for it to melt. In most places it will eventually be carried away by glacial movement, but it is possible to find areas where the snow has piled up for hundreds of thousands of years, turning to ice as the weight of later snowfall builds up on top.

Drilling out a core of such ice reveals the past in a neat sequence of millennia. Better still, the ice contains information about the past. It includes trapped air bubbles that can be analysed to reveal the composition of the ancient atmosphere. Layers of ash reveal ancient volcanic eruptions. And the ratio of different isotopes of oxygen in the ice is a virtual thermometer that tells us past temperatures. The more of the lighter isotope, oxygen 16, there is, the colder it was.

Stocker says: “Ice-drilling is an area in which Europe has taken a decisive technological and scientific lead in the past decade. We now have a continuous record of 800,000 years of climate history, thanks to EPICA and other European initiatives.”

These ice cores directly illuminate current climate debates. As Stocker points out, air bubbles allow us to measure how much methane and carbon dioxide there was in the air when the snow fell. These – especially carbon dioxide – are the principal greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. It is clear that they are now at their most abundant for hundreds of thousands of years. By contrast, the most-used direct measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide, made on Hawaii, only date back to 1958. So as Stocker says: “EPICA results form a cornerstone of the current climate debate.”

EPICA has been responsible for drilling and investigating two deep ice cores in Antarctica. One was at a site called Dome C, and the other at Kohnen research station in Queen Maud Land. At Dome C, ice was drilled out to a depth of 3270m, stopping in December 2004 just 5m above the rocky basement below. Because of the immense pressure at this depth, there is liquid water above the rock, so drilling was stopped to avoid polluting it. At Kohnen station, drilling was completed in January 2006 at a depth of 2774m, where the ice was estimated to be 150,000 years old.

Stocker says that this research is being pushed forward under the umbrella of the current International Polar Year, in which ESF is a contributor. Recently a new project called NEEM (North Greenland Eemian Ice Drilling) has been launched to investigate the Eemian period in Earth history. This warm period from about 130,000 to 115,000 years ago shares similarities with an imminent future greenhouse Earth, and it had sea levels about 7m higher than those we observe today. The NEEM project forms part of IPICS, the International Partnership in Ice Core Sciences. Stocker explains that one of the aims of IPICS is to find the oldest ice in Greenland, probably in the north-west of the island, so that we can get a clear comparison between Arctic and Antarctic narratives of Earth history.

While these cores still have plenty to tell us, Stocker and his colleagues are in little doubt about the overall message. They think that climate “forcing” by greenhouse gases is a very real phenomenon: in other words, that rising greenhouse gas concentrations drive the Earth’s temperature upwards in a very direct way. So the ice cores now deposited in cold “stores” around the world have a clear message for us all.

Contact

Thomas Lau
Communications Unit
European Science Foundation
Tel: +33 3 88 76 21 58 (Direct Line)
Email: tlau@esf.org

Thomas Lau | European Science Foundation
Further information:
http://www.esf.org/epica
http://www.esf.org

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Impacts of mass coral die-off on Indian Ocean reefs revealed
21.02.2017 | University of Exeter

nachricht How much biomass grows in the savannah?
16.02.2017 | Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Microhotplates for a smart gas sensor

22.02.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Scientists unlock ability to generate new sensory hair cells

22.02.2017 | Life Sciences

Prediction: More gas-giants will be found orbiting Sun-like stars

22.02.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>