Glaciology is in the middle of a slow-moving crisis. As the climate warms, glaciers are shrinking and then disappearing. So scientists have come up with a plan to put ice cores from melting glaciers in the most permanent cold storage possible on Earth—in Antarctica.
Glaciologists extract ice cores from glaciers all over the world to study ancient climates. The cores can run hundreds of feet deep, reaching into ice that is hundreds of thousands years old. The gases and sediments trapped in the ice are a frozen snapshot of the past. As glaciers melt, so do these valuable historical clues.
Ice cores are already stored in facilities like the USGS’s National Ice Core Laboratory in Colorado. But this plan has its flaws: A power cut to the freezers could undo decades of work. Plus keeping all that ice so cold is energy-intensive.
Antarctica, on the other hand, is the world’s natural freezer. Even with climate change, the ends of the Earth will likely stay cold enough to preserve the ice. The current plan, reports the BBC, is to bring ice cores to a snow cave at Concordia Research Station, a permanently manned Antarctic base run by the French and Italian. Teams are already planning to collect glacial ice from the Alps and Andes to ship to Concordia next year.
Ice cores in Antarctica will obviously be difficult to retrieve, but that’s not the point. The goal here is long-term storage, an insurance policy for a future when the Earth’s icy historical record has otherwise melted away.
Top image: Stephen Hudson / CC
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