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22 August 2016

Protecting Ice Memory - The World's First Glacier Library

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An international team of glaciologists and engineers began a project this month to preserve the ice of glaciers around the world in an archive. Alarmed by rising temperatures, they decided it was time to act fast before the history contained in the ancient, but melting, glaciers was lost.

The project is called Protecting Ice Memory, and its first mission began in Mont Blanc on August 15th. Glaciologists are drilling samples from the Col du Dôme glaciers, extracting them by helicopter and storing them temporarily at the LGGE (Laboratory of Glaciology and Environmental Geophysics) in Grenoble. Two of the 130m long ice cores will eventually be stored in a snow cave in Antarctica at -54 °C, while the third will be kept for analysis, and used to make a database available to the entire global scientific community.

At ten-year intervals, researchers have measured a rise of 1.5° and 2° in the glaciers on the Alpine Col du Dôme and the Illimani in the Andes. While this doesn’t sound like much, it is enough to indicate that the ice will continue to melt and change the natural landscape of our planet.

The IRD project description outlines the urgency:

‘At the current rate, we are forecasting that the [glaciers'] surface will undergo systematic melting over the summer in the next few years and decades. Due to this melting and the percolation of meltwater through the underlying layers of snow, these are unique pages in the history of our environment which will be lost forever.’

Carlo Barbante is one of the project’s Italian initiators, and is Director of the Institute for the Dynamics of Environmental Processes:

‘Our generation of scientists, which bears witness to global warming, has a particular responsibility to future generations. That is why we will be donating these ice samples from the world’s most fragile glaciers to the scientific community of the decades and centuries to come, when these glaciers will have disappeared or lost their data quality’

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Protecting Ice Memory has many notable supporters, including climatologist and Nobel Peace Prize-winning Jean Jouzel. He states the lasting importance of the work:

‘In the coming decades, or even centuries, this ice archive will be invaluable – be it for entirely unprecedented scientific discoveries or for understanding local changes in the environment.’

The next mission will be to the Illimani glaciers in the Bolivian Andes, and is scheduled to take place in 2017. More operations will surely follow in due course, since numerous countries are already lining up to be involved, including Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Brazil, the United States, Russia, China, Nepal and Canada.

Protecting Ice Memory was launched in 2015 by a group of concerned researchers at Université Grenoble Alpes, the CNRS (Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique), the IRD (Institute de Recherché pour le Developpement), the CNR (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche),and Ca' Foscari University. They see it as their duty to the scientific community to transfer ice cores, containing precious data about the history of the atmosphere, to safety, and are backed by a number of international foundations and programmes.

Naomi Pyburn

Naomi is an English graduate with an itch to write. Her free time is spent blogging, reading feminist writing, cycling, cooking and managing her food Instagram account. Her not-so secret talent is the ability to nap anywhere.