Arctic scientists are storing huge ice cores in a snow cave, preserving history

Ice cores, which hold invaluable records about ancient environments, will be collected from the Svalbard Archipelago before it all melts away.
Sade Agard
Building of the Ice Memory 'snow cave' Sanctuary at Concordia station - Antarctica
Building of the Ice Memory 'snow cave' Sanctuary at Concordia station - Antarctica

Rocco Ascione / PNRA - French Polar Institute 

Drilling is set to begin in the Arctic to save samples of ancient ice that contain critical records of past environments before it all melts away, according to a press release on April 3. 

In what is described as a 'hectic race against time,' an international team has reached the Holtedahlfonna icefield in the Svalbard Archipelago, setting up camp at the height of 1,100 meters (latitude 79.15 North). For three weeks, they will labor here at temperatures as low as minus 25 degrees Celsius.

A frozen library preserved in a 'snow cave'

Two 125-meter-long ice cores will be drilled to reconstruct climate signals for the last 300 years: one is for today's science, while the other is for future generations. This is part of a scientific project to better understand the "Arctic amplification" phenomenon, which is a feedback loop that explains why the Arctic is warming so much more than the rest of the planet. 

The Svalbard Archipelago—the northernmost land in Europe— is disappearing four times more quickly than the global average, where temperatures have risen by four to five degrees Celsius over the past 40 to 50 years.

"We aim at determining the role of sea ice in Arctic amplification and its impact on the atmosphere, in particular on the chemical processes of bromine and mercury, said Andrea Spolaor in the press release, glaciologist and geochemist at the Institute of Polar Sciences of CNR and Svalbard expedition leader.

An ice core will be preserved for centuries at the Ice Memory Sanctuary—a dedicated snow cave that will be built at the French-Italian Concordia station, the only international station on the Antarctic Plateau, by 2025. This comes after a partnership with the Ice Memory Foundation.

In this way, long after the glacier has vanished due to global warming, future generations of scientists will have access to the high-quality ice core to study the planet's past climate and foresee future changes.

"The beauty of the Ice Memory initiative is not to produce added value in terms of today's knowledge, but to create the conditions that will allow those who come after us can [sic] produce it," said Jérôme Chappellaz, climate scientist (EPFL-CNRS) and Chairman of the Ice Memory Foundation.

But researchers are also assessing if and how the recent acceleration of temperature increases has already affected the accuracy of climate and environmental signals.

The 1.1 million euro ($700,000) mission succeeds prior ice core extractions by the foundation, including ventures into the Andes and Alps.

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