Study: The Rush to Sock Away Glacier Ice Before It All Melts

The Atlantic discusses The Rush to Sock Away Glacier Ice Before It All Melts. A snow-covered vault in Antarctica could help preserve chunks of disappearing glaciers.

The year is 2220. Everyone alive on Earth today is long dead, and the world looks very different. Desperate to study the atmospheres of the past, on a mission to understand how the hostile 23rd-century climate could unravel further, a scientist has traveled to the Antarctic hinterland. Her gloved hand pulls open a door buried in the snow. Behind it lies the top of a staircase, which spirals down into the freezing darkness. Flashlight in hand, she descends three stories to find history.

Inside a steel vault that has been sealed for more than a century, frost sparkles from steel canisters. They hold ice scraped from mighty glaciers that once topped the highest mountains. She has seen the glaciers in pictures, but now—thanks to forward-thinking predecessors—she has the chance to analyze them and their valuable record of the past. She breathes silently thanks to the glaciologists of the early 21st century who set up this archive.

“Ice cores are an invaluable way to understand the past climate,” Gavin Foster, a geochemist at the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton, says. Foster co-authored a 2018 Annual Review of Marine Science article on paleoclimate studies. “There seems to be no limit to what they can tell us about global and local conditions.”

For instance, in a study published last year, a team from Japan and Idaho analyzed pollen grains in an 87-meter-long ice core drilled in the Grigoriev Ice Cap in the Tien Shan Mountains of Central Asia.

In another project, researchers from Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland explored how many cloud-forming particles may have drifted through Arctic skies—an important unknown about past climates.

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