Climate change studies & ice core research

Why use ice cores? How do ice cores work? Layers in the ice Information from ice cores Further reading References Comments. Current period is at right. Wikimedia Commons. Ice sheets have one particularly special property. They allow us to go back in time and to sample accumulation, air temperature and air chemistry from another time[1]. Ice core records allow us to generate continuous reconstructions of past climate, going back at least , years[2].

Ice Cores and the Age of the Earth

Detailed information on air temperature and CO2 levels is trapped in these specimens. Current polar records show an intimate connection between atmospheric carbon dioxide and temperature in the natural world. In essence, when one goes up, the other one follows. There is, however, still a degree of uncertainty about which came first—a spike in temperature or CO2.

Dating of the ice cores is essential in order to reconstruct the temporal rather small samples ( g of ice) for methane concentration analysis and isotope.

An ice core is a core sample that is typically removed from an ice sheet or a high mountain glacier. Since the ice forms from the incremental buildup of annual layers of snow, lower layers are older than upper, and an ice core contains ice formed over a range of years. Cores are drilled with hand augers for shallow holes or powered drills; they can reach depths of over two miles 3.

The physical properties of the ice and of material trapped in it can be used to reconstruct the climate over the age range of the core. The proportions of different oxygen and hydrogen isotopes provide information about ancient temperatures , and the air trapped in tiny bubbles can be analysed to determine the level of atmospheric gases such as carbon dioxide. Since heat flow in a large ice sheet is very slow, the borehole temperature is another indicator of temperature in the past.

These data can be combined to find the climate model that best fits all the available data. Impurities in ice cores may depend on location. Coastal areas are more likely to include material of marine origin, such as sea salt ions. Greenland ice cores contain layers of wind-blown dust that correlate with cold, dry periods in the past, when cold deserts were scoured by wind.

Radioactive elements, either of natural origin or created by nuclear testing , can be used to date the layers of ice. Some volcanic events that were sufficiently powerful to send material around the globe have left a signature in many different cores that can be used to synchronise their time scales. Ice cores have been studied since the early 20th century, and several cores were drilled as a result of the International Geophysical Year —

Ice cores and climate change

Establishing precise age-depth relationships of high-alpine ice cores is essential in order to deduce conclusive paleoclimatic information from these archives. Radiocarbon dating of carbonaceous aerosol particles incorporated in such glaciers is a promising tool to gain absolute ages, especially from the deepest parts where conventional methods are commonly inapplicable. In this study, we present a new validation for a published 14C dating method for ice cores.

In this time-lapse video, scientists in Antarctica melt ice core samples from the Taylor Glacier. (Courtesy of Logan Mitchell, Oregon State.

Author contributions: C. Ice outcrops provide accessible archives of old ice but are difficult to date reliably. Here we demonstrate 81 Kr radiometric dating of ice, allowing accurate dating of up to 1. The technique successfully identifies valuable ice from the previous interglacial period at Taylor Glacier, Antarctica.

Our method will enhance the scientific value of outcropping sites as archives of old ice needed for paleoclimatic reconstructions and can aid efforts to extend the ice core record further back in time. We present successful 81 Kr-Kr radiometric dating of ancient polar ice. Our experimental methods and sampling strategy are validated by i 85 Kr and 39 Ar analyses that show the samples to be free of modern air contamination and ii air content measurements that show the ice did not experience gas loss.

We estimate the error in the 81 Kr ages due to past geomagnetic variability to be below 3 ka. We show that ice from the previous interglacial period Marine Isotope Stage 5e, — ka before present can be found in abundance near the surface of Taylor Glacier. Our study paves the way for reliable radiometric dating of ancient ice in blue ice areas and margin sites where large samples are available, greatly enhancing their scientific value as archives of old ice and meteorites.

At present, ATTA 81 Kr analysis requires a 40—kg ice sample; as sample requirements continue to decrease, 81 Kr dating of ice cores is a future possibility.


Thin cores of ice, thousands of meters deep, have been drilled in the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica. They are preserved in special cold-storage rooms for study. Glacier ice is formed as each year’s snow is compacted under the weight of the snows of later years. Light bands correspond to the relatively fresh, clean snows that fall in the summer when warmer conditions bring more moisture and precipitation.

Dark bands mark the polar winter season, when little new snow falls on these frigid deserts and blowing snow is mixed with dust, discoloring the white snow.

Length and masses of these nine individual samples thus varied between and m and – g ice, respectively. From each sample.

Deep ice core chronologies have been improved over the past years through the addition of new age constraints. However, dating methods are still associated with large uncertainties for ice cores from the East Antarctic plateau where layer counting is not possible. Consequently, we need to enhance the knowledge of this delay to improve ice core chronologies. It is especially marked during Dansgaard-Oeschger 25 where the proposed chronology is 2. Dating of 30m ice cores drilled by Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition and environmental change study.

Introduction It is possible to reveal the past climate and environmental change from the ice core drilled in polar ice sheet and glaciers. The 54th Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition conducted several shallow core drillings up to 30 m depth in the inland and coastal areas of the East Antarctic ice sheet.

Core questions: An introduction to ice cores

And it is ice that draws paleoclimatologists literally to the ends of the Earth in the quest for knowledge about where our planet has been, where it is, and where it might be going. Ice cores provide a unique contribution to our view of past climate because the bubbles within the ice capture the gas concentration of our well-mixed atmosphere while the ice itself records other properties. Scientists obtain this information by traveling to ice sheets, like Antarctica or Greenland, and using a special drill that bores down into the ice and removes a cylindrical tube called an ice core.

Drilling thousands of meters into ice is a feat of technology, endurance, and persistence in extreme environments, exemplified by the joint Russian, U.

Areas with accumulating snow turn to ice with air bubbles that preserve samples of the atmosphere from world atmospheres of the past.

To support our nonprofit science journalism, please make a tax-deductible gift today. Scientists endured bitter winds to retrieve ancient ice from a blue ice field in the Allan Hills of Antarctica. Scientists announced today that a core drilled in Antarctica has yielded 2. Some models of ancient climate predict that such relatively low levels would be needed to tip Earth into a series of ice ages. But some proxies gleaned from the fossils of animals that lived in shallow oceans had indicated higher CO 2 levels.

Although blue ice areas offer only a fragmentary view of the past, they may turn into prime hunting grounds for ancient ice, says Ed Brook, a geochemist on the discovery team at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

Ice Core Data Help Solve a Global Warming Mystery

I was wondering how ice cores are dated accurately. I know Carbon 14 is one method, but some ice cores go back hundreds of thousands of years. Would other isotopes with longer half-lives be more accurate? Also, how much does it cost to date the core? How are samples acquired without destroying the ice? I imagine keeping the ice intact as much as possible would be extremely valuable.

Thin cores of ice, thousands of meters deep, have been drilled in the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica. Counting the yearly layers can date them.

How are ice cores dated? How, there is some accuracy in linking Taylor Glacier samples to ice accuracy records due to analytical uncertainties and the possible nonuniqueness of the vostok. Second, the ice vostok chronologies themselves are subject to uncertainties. For the last 60 ka, an annual layer-counted age scale is available for Greenland, to which Antarctic records can be tied using globally how-mixed CH 4 ; beyond this age, ice radiocarbon modeling is how used to reconstruct the chronology 39 – The uncertainty in the ice core temperature can be evaluated by comparing them to independently dated speleothem records showing concomitant events 41 – Third, the Kr samples tell a spread in ages due to their finite temperature.

We estimate this last effect is only important for the oldest sample where the layers tell how strongly compressed. The first sample Kr-1 was obtained along the main lab. The sample is from the Younger Dryas temperature, which is clearly identified by its characteristic CH 4 sequence. The top axis shows the distance along the transect in meters; note that the position? We assign a stratigraphic age of Going down-glacier the ice gets progressively older; ice about ages between 10 and 55 ka is found in stratigraphic order 0?

Past 55 ka the age cores is more ambiguous, and ice from MIS 4 appears to be absent from the sampling profile. It must be noted that the ice stratigraphy in this lower part of the glacier is strongly disturbed by ice flow, and the sequence shown in Fig. Apart from the four ice samples we took an additional atmospheric sample upwind from the field camp, which was processed identically to the air samples extracted about the ice.

Stratigraphic dating of Kr samples.

Ice core dating using stable isotope data

When archaeologists want to learn about the history of an ancient civilization, they dig deeply into the soil, searching for tools and artifacts to complete the story. The samples they collect from the ice, called ice cores, hold a record of what our planet was like hundreds of thousands of years ago. But where do ice cores come from, and what do they tell us about climate change? In some areas, these layers result in ice sheets that are several miles several kilometers thick. Researchers drill ice cores from deep sometimes more than a mile, or more than 1.

At the Bern laboratory, four to six samples of approximately 8 grams from each depth level (m intervals) in the ice core are crushed under.

Any groups that have been impacted by the tour shutdown will be prioritized when we resume tour operations. Thank you for your patience and understanding. Glaciers form as layers of snow accumulate on top of each other. Each layer of snow is different in chemistry and texture, summer snow differing from winter snow. Over time, the buried snow compresses under the weight of the snow above it, forming ice. Particulates and dissolved chemicals that were captured by the falling snow become a part of the ice, as do bubbles of trapped air.

Layers of ice accumulate over seasons and years, creating a record of the climate conditions at the time of formation, including snow accumulation, local temperature, the chemical composition of the atmosphere including greenhouse gas concentrations, volcanic activity, and solar activity. Ice cores are cylinders of ice drilled from ice sheets and glaciers. They are essentially frozen time capsules that allow scientists to reconstruct climate far into the past.

Layers in ice cores correspond to years and seasons, with the youngest ice at the top and the oldest ice at the bottom of the core.

Climate change: understanding the facts (Vostok ice core)