Tale of the deepest ice core drilled from Antarctic Peninsula


Thousands of years of data recorded in ice

Researchers here are hopeful that the new core they drilled through an ice field on the Antarctic Peninsula will contain ice dating back into the last ice age. If so, that record should give new insight into past global climate changes.

The expedition in early winter to the Bruce Plateau, an ice field straddling a narrow ridge on the northernmost tongue of the southernmost continent, yielded a core that was 445.6 meters long, the longest yet recovered from that region of Antarctica. And while remarkably successful, the field work tested the researchers’ resilience more than most of their previous expeditions.

“It was the field season from hell,” explained Ellen Mosley-Thompson, professor of geography at Ohio State University and leader of the project. “Everything that could go wrong did, and almost everything that could break did.”

Bad weather delayed their transport to the remote drill site and snowstorms were a recurrent problem, preventing support flights in to the team. Twice, their drills became stuck deep in the ice, a drill motor broke and all three of the drill gearboxes failed, causing them to cannibalize those devices to construct a new one.

RTFA. It would make a fine documentary of the dedication and inventive spirit required of researchers working in the extremes our planet offers. The questions asked are as important as the ingenuity needed to get the samples.

Have the climate trends around the Antarctic Peninsula been similar or dissimilar to those experienced by the rest of the continent? Some evidence has suggested conditions have been considerably different;

Was the climate on the peninsula warm during the early Holocene period, some 8,000 to 6,000 years ago, as it was elsewhere around the globe?

Can evidence trapped in the ice cores shed light on what caused the Larsen Ice Sheet to begin to disintegrate in recent years?

Do the cores contain ice formed during the last glacial stage, or “ice age”? If so, it might yield clues to what caused the change from those earlier, much colder climate conditions.

“My gut feeling is that the ice at the Bruce Plateau site might have built up during the latter part of the last glacial stage,” Mosley-Thompson said.

“But to date, only two cores drilled in the Antarctic Peninsula, one in 2007 to 363 meters depth by the British Antarctic Survey, and ours, have the potential to answer that question and neither has been analyzed yet to make that determination.”

I’ve made myself a note to check in on their progress over time.

An important influence on early days of my interest in science was one of the people who invented the job description of “ice geologist”. We worked together in a research lab eventually shunted into non-existence by the vagaries of first-gen conglomerates. Gave me a special curiosity about the craft.

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