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16 November 2016

Scientists Begin Hunt for Oldest Ice on Earth

With climate change continuing to be a hot topic among scientific circles and the general populace alike, an increasing number of people are taking a keen interest in just how our climate has shifted over time. All of our scientific models designed to predict future climate trends rely on this data in order to make their predictions, so research in this area really is vital if we are to combat the alarming rate at which global temperatures are increasing.

As part of an effort to better understand the climates of old, a group of researchers comprised of members from 10 European countries is headed to East Antarctica this month. Their aim? To find the oldest ice on Earth, of course.

The mission forms the first phase of the Beyond EPICA Oldest Ice (BE-OI) project, which aims to gather details covering more than 1 million years of the Earth’s climate data; an ambitious undertaking, to say the least. To achieve this, the research team will head out onto the frozen plains of Antarctica to drill ice cores; cylinders of pure frozen history. It sounds almost romantic…

The ice cores can then be ‘read’ or analysed by scientists in order to determine temperatures and atmospheric composition at the time of freezing. This is possible because of the way ice forms over time; depositing layer upon layer like the inner rings of a tree. By counting the annual layers, scientists can determine the age of the ice core, and by judging the thickness of said layers, they can also make predictions about the temperature at the time. Air bubbles within the ice hold tiny pockets of ancient atmosphere, allowing us to gather even more detailed information on ages long past.

"In the early 2000s, we drilled an ice core from Antarctica that gave us a climate record going back 800,000 years," Robert Mulvaney, an ice core scientist from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) who is working on the BE-OI project, said in a statement. "Now we want to double the length of that record to investigate an important shift in Earth's climate around one million years ago, when the planet's climate cycle between cold glacial conditions and warmer interludes changed from being dominated by a 41,000-year pattern to a 100,000-year cycle."

The project will survey several sites across East Antarctica, with further projects to follow should it be successful in the ambition of locating the oldest ice on Earth.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.