Issue date: 15 Jan 2002
15 January 2002 PR Number 1/2002
In the first weeks of the New Year a team of European scientists drilled successfully through 2002 metres of ice at Dome Concordia, high on East Antarctica's plateau - one of the most hostile places on the planet. A specially created laboratory on the ice enabled scientists to analyse, for the first time, past climate shifts within hours of each 3 m length of core being drilled - rather than waiting months or years for detailed study back in European labs. The team, working on a seven-year Antarctic research programme to discover the history of the Earth's climate and atmosphere, report that ice from this depth came from snow that fell 170,000 years ago, when the region was 10?C colder than it is today.
The 22-person team of scientists and drilling experts taking part in the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA) worked in temperatures of -20?C. Complex experiments, involving sweeping ice core segments with a range of electrical frequencies, provide a 'fingerprint' of the chemical contents of the ice. It is this chemistry that holds the clues to our past climate.
The team will complete this season's drilling at the end of January. After on-site analysis the cores will be sent to over 30 different European laboratories for more detailed study. The team will return to Antarctica next year to drill to the bottom of the ice to produce a history of climate and atmospheric composition for the last half a million years.
Dr Eric Wolff of the British Antarctic Survey, who is currently Chief Scientist for EPICA at the Antarctic site known as Dome Concordia said:
"The Antarctic ice sheet is like a history book of the Earth's climate. This drilling programme takes us back to the future. Information about how climate worked in the past is locked in the ice. Understanding this helps predict future changes. It\'s fascinating to think that 170,000 years ago global sea level was 120 metres lower than now and the temperature at the equator was 6?C colder.
January also marks the start of drilling for a new EPICA ice core at Dronning Maud Land (DML), one of the least explored regions of Antarctica, 3,000 km from Dome Concordia on the opposite side of the continent. Cores from Dome Concordia will provide the longest possible record of the past atmosphere. The DML site receives double the snowfall of Dome Concordia, and this ice core will provide even more detailed information, though it will not reach so far back in time. Scientists measure impurities in the air bubbles trapped in the ice to investigate the link between climate and greenhouse gases.
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NOTES TO EDITORS
Photographs, location map and video footage of ice coring are available from the BAS Press Office, and from IFRTP (Gerard.Jugie@ifremer.fr; 0033 2 98 05 65 02).
EPICA (European Ice Core Project in Antarctica) is a consortium of 10 European countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, UK). The British Antarctic Survey is the UK representative.
The EPICA research team is using the unique climate record from ice cores to investigate the relationship between the chemistry of the atmosphere and climate changes over the past 500,000 years, especially the effects of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides. The results will be used to test and enhance computer models used to predict future climate.
Earlier joint European studies of Greenland ice cores discovered several periods of very unstable climates in the past, which may have implications for the climate of Europe if there is sustained warming in the future.
The Antarctic fieldwork is challenging both scientifically and environmentally. Dome C (75? 06\'S, 123? 23\'E) and Dronning Maud Land (75?S, 0?E/W) are some of the most hostile places on the planet, and average temperatures are below -44 degrees Celsius. Researchers travel by tractor over thousands of kilometres of featureless snow where blizzards are common.
EPICA is coordinated by the European Science Foundation (ESF), and funded by the participating countries and by the European Union. EPICA forms part of the BAS core science programme
(Signals in Antarctica of past global changes), which uses the information from Antarctic ice cores and sediments to recreate past environments.
British Antarctic Survey is responsible for most of the UK\'s research in Antarctica. It is a component of the Natural Environment Research Council.