Scientists Collect the First Entries For a Library of Ice

CSIRO, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0
CSIRO, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0 / CSIRO, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

Glacier experts have begun the first phase of a plan to carry ice from the top of the Alps to the bottom of the world. On August 15, a team of 10 researchers will collect the very first samples on the treacherous Mont Blanc massif for a brand-new international ice library housed in an Antarctic cave. 

The Protecting Ice Memory project aims to preserve the rich information contained in our planet’s swiftly disappearing ice. To those that can read them, mountain glaciers are incredible repositories of data points on long-term changes in temperature, as well as concentrations of gases and pollutants. But as they melt, their histories go with them. So researchers are planning to take enormous, cylindrical samples called ice cores from as many mountaintops as they can, and shelve them in the still-frozen Antarctic.

© Bruno Jourdain, CNRS Photo Library

It’s an idea similar to, and inspired by, the so-called Doomsday Seed Vault, a stronghold of hundreds of thousands of seeds that could help restore agricultural supplies in the event of a global food crisis. The seed vault and its precious contents are well protected, buried 390 feet under the icy ground of a remote island in the Norwegian Arctic. 

Leaders of the Protecting Ice Memory project are equally concerned about keeping their samples safe, although the threat in this case is global warming. They say that the 426-foot-long ice cores will be passed across the globe through “a strict cold chain” until they reach the French- and Italian-run Concordia Station in Antarctica. The samples’ final destination is a -65°F snow cave that project partner Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) calls “the most reliable and natural freezer in the world.” 

In addition to Italy and France, the project has found support and interest in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Brazil, the United States, Russia, China, Nepal, and Canada.

Carlo Barbante is the project’s Italian leader. "Our generation of scientists, which bears witness to global warming, has a particular responsibility to future generations," he said in the IRD press statement. "That is why we will be donating these ice samples from the world's most fragile glaciers to the scientific community of the decades and centuries to come, when these glaciers will have disappeared or lost their data quality."

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