The main goal of the ice core project, Cole-Dai said “was to get an ice core more than two miles deep to give us nearly 70,000 years of history of the Earth’s climate.”
The National Science Foundation-funded project, which began eight years ago, involves more than 20 universities and national laboratories. The SDSU Ice Core and Environment Chemistry Lab, headed by Cole-Dai, has been a part of the project since 2006.
It took eight years to build the field camp and to collect the original ice core, because the harsh Antarctica conditions allow only a 60-day window each year in which to work. That task was completed in January 2012.
“This year was significant because of the completion of additional field work,” Cole-Dai said. Scientists wanted more ice to do further work on specific time periods. To do so, the team retrieved additional ice from five spots along the original ice core hole, while also leaving the lower portion of the hole intact.
“That in itself was quite a challenge and accomplishment,” Cole-Dai said. His former postdoctoral researcher, David Ferris, was part of the drilling team. Ferris became part of the project through the SDSU Ice Core and Environment Chemistry Lab during his doctoral work.
To accomplish this task, engineers had to design a special bit and drilling apparatus that used an actuator to push off to the side of the original borehole, explained Tony Wendricks, project coordinator for the Ice Drilling Design and Operations group at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Ferris has worked on ice drilling team for three years and on the core handling team for one year.
“It’s a tricky thing – to maintain the parent hole,” Wendricks said.
“It’s never been done anywhere in the world,” Cole-Dai said. “You have a tool hanging at the end of a two-mile-long rope or cable and you want it to do very precise things, to move one degree in the direction you want and to bring the ice out.”
When the drillers brought up cylinders of ice, they handed them over to the core-processing team, Cole-Dai said. He and Peterson were on the team that took measurements and logged the information regarding the cores from the designated time periods. Then they packaged the ice cylinders to transport to the National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver.
Once the cores have been processed in Denver, each university lab will get its slice of the ice for analysis, which will likely take a year, Cole-Dai said. His SDSU team will work on a section of ice from 17,500 years ago that offers clues as to why the Earth began to emerge from the Ice Age.
At that point in history, Cole-Dai said, “something big happened – a large volcanic eruption or a number of them.” Others speculate that it might have been an object from outer space that struck the Earth.
“We want to gather more information from the ice and hopefully it will lead to better ideas, or support some of the ideas and disprove some of the others,” Cole-Dai said.
For this research, Cole-Dai’s team collaborates with a lab at the University of California, San Diego. SDSU analyzes the trace chemicals, while the California lab does the isotope measurements. Cole-Dai has three doctoral students working in his lab; two of them have been to Antarctica.
Researchers found fluoride, which is commonly associated with a volcanic eruption, in a previous ice core, explained Peterson. However, the levels were higher than those expected from an eruption. For her dissertation, Peterson will analyze the fluoride levels in the replicate core to confirm the original results.
In addition, Peterson took samples from a snow pit more than eight feet deep to look for signs of two volcanic eruptions a couple of years ago, one in Indonesia and one in Africa. “The eruptions were pretty small but very powerful,” Peterson said, “so the plume may have gotten into the stratosphere.”
When this happens, Cole-Dai explained, the wind patterns can carry the volcanic material to the entire world, including both poles. Because the snow at the Western Antarctica drill site never melts, the ice contains a history of the changing atmospheric environment and of the dynamic climate. As for the location to drill the ice core in the center of West Antarctica, Cole-Dai explained, “It’s like the continental divide. Ice flows away from this point; it doesn’t get ice from other locations.”
By measuring the kinds and quantities of chemicals in the ice cores and determining how those change over time, scientists can study the events that lead to global climate change, Cole-Dai said. This will lead to a better understanding of how human activities can influence climate. By studying the Earth’s past, Cole-Dai said, “we can better predict the future.”
About SDSU’s Ice Core and Environmental Chemistry Lab
SDSU students and faculty in the Ice Core and Environmental Chemistry Lab (ICECL) conduct basic research in atmospheric chemistry and on the global atmospheric environment and climate using snow and ice core samples from the polar regions of Earth. ICECL is a part of the research program of SDSU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
About South Dakota State University
Founded in 1881, South Dakota State University is the state’s Morrill Act land-grant institution as well as its largest, most comprehensive school of higher education. SDSU confers degrees from eight different colleges representing more than 175 majors, minors and specializations. The institution also offers 29 master’s degree programs, 12 Ph.D. and two professional programs.
The work of the university is carried out on a residential campus in Brookings, at sites in Sioux Falls, Pierre and Rapid City, and through Cooperative Extension offices and Agricultural Experiment Station research sites across the state.
Jihong Cole-Dai | Source: Newswise
Further information: www.sdstate.edu
Further Reports about: Antarctica > Bronze Age > CHEMISTRY > crystalline > Earth's magnetic field > Earth’s surface > environmental risk > ice core hole > polar region > SDSU > specimen processing > West Antarctica Ice Sheet
More articles from Earth Sciences:
Climate change puts forty percent more people at risk of absolute water scarcity
17.12.2013 | Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung
Recognizing the Elephant in the Room: Future Climate Impacts across Sectors
17.12.2013 | Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung
A 12-year study of massive stars has reaffirmed that our Galaxy has four spiral arms, following years of debate sparked by images taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope that only showed two arms.
The new research, which is published online today [17 December] in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, is part of the RMS Survey, which was launched by academics at the University of Leeds.
Astronomers cannot see what our Galaxy, which is called the Milky Way, looks like because we ...
In collaboration with the University of Basel, an international team of researchers has observed a strong energy loss caused by frictional effects in the vicinity of charge density waves.
This may have practical significance in the control of nanoscale friction. The results have been published in the scientific journal Nature Materials.
Friction is often seen as an adverse phenomenon that leads to wear and causes energy loss. Conversely, however, too little friction can be a disadvantage as well – ...
A new type of transistor that could make possible fast and low-power computing devices for energy-constrained applications such as smart sensor networks, implantable medical electronics and ultra-mobile computing is feasible, according to Penn State researchers.
Called a near broken-gap tunnel field effect transistor (TFET), the new device uses the quantum mechanical tunneling of electrons through an ultrathin energy barrier to provide high current at low voltage.
Penn State, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and IQE, a specialty wafer manufacturer, jointly presented their findings at ...
The team of Johannes Zuber at the IMP in Vienna, Austria, managed to overcome remaining key limitations of RNA interference (RNAi) - a unique method to specifically shut off genes.
By using an optimized design, the scientists were able to inhibit genes with greatly enhanced efficiency and accuracy. The new method facilitates the search for drug targets and improves the interpretation of experimental results.
The IMP will make this „RNAi toolkit“ available to researchers. Results of the study are published in ...
Research The dangerous parasite Schistosoma mansoni that causes snail fever in humans could become significantly less common in the future a new international study led by researchers from the University of Copenhagen predicts.
The results are surprising because they contradict the general assumption that climate change leads to greater geographical spread of diseases. The explanation is that the parasite’s host snails stand to lose suitable habitat due to climate change.
“Our research shows that the expected effects of climate change will lead ...
18.12.2013 | Life Sciences
18.12.2013 | Medical Engineering
18.12.2013 | Studies and Analyses
11.12.2013 | Event News
10.12.2013 | Event News
05.12.2013 | Event News