Press release

In the Cornucopia of the European Project of Ice Coring in Antarctica: the oldest Antarctic ice core

[13. January 2005] 

On Tuesday 21th of December 2004 a European team involved in Epica (European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica) reached the drilling depth of 3270.2, which is five meters above the bedrock at Dome C, on the central plateau of the east Antarctic ice sheet. The ice is melting at the bedrock and it has been decided to stop at this depth to avoid any danger of direct contamination of the basal water. The drilling operation has therefore been terminated.

The drilling has been very successful and has been followed by a wide community of ice and climate researchers. The 70 meters of ice drilled this season completes a long venture started in 1996. The core has already led to the release in the scientific journal ’Nature’ last June of a 740,000-year record of Antarctic climate. The new piece of core will extend the record to an age estimated to be more than 900.000 years old. This is the oldest ice that has been recovered from deep ice cores. The basal ice has ice crystals, some bigger than 40 centimetres and we have observed many inclusions of brown/reddish material mainly between the big ice crystals.

The prospect of the new and unknown information to be found by studies of the ice from the Epica DomeC ice core is fascinating and may have a profound impact on our understanding of the Earth’s climate and environment.

Issued on behalf of the Epica Steering Committee, The European Union, and the European Science Foundation.

Notes to editors:
Epica (European Ice Core Project in Antarctica) is a consortium of ten European countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, UK). Epica is coordinated by the European Science Foundation (ESF), and funded by the participating countries and by the European Union.

The Epica research team is using the unique climate record from ice cores to investigate the relationship between the chemistry of the atmosphere and climate changes, especially the effects of carbon dioxide, methane and other components of the atmosphere. The results will be used to test and enhance computer models used to predict future climate. Epica’s aim is to drill two ice cores to the base of the Antarctic ice sheet, one at Dome C, the other in Dronning Maud Land. Both drillings hope to reach their aim in the next two years.

The German partner in the Epica project is the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven. It has responsibility for the drilling in Dronning Maud Land. In addition, Prof Heinz Miller, acting director at the Alfred-Wegener-Institute, manages overall Epica project coordination. Epica is one of the core projects within the Alfred-Wegener-Institute research framework ’Marine, Coastal and Polar Systems’ (Marcopoli). Marcopoli is part of the research area ’Erde und Umwelt’ (’Earth and Environment’) of the ’Helmholtzgemeinschaft’.

The ice cores are cylinders of ice ten centimetres in diameter that are brought to the surface in lengths of about three metres at a time. Snowflakes collect particles from the atmosphere, and pockets of air become trapped between snow crystals as ice is formed. Analysis of the chemical composition and physical properties of the snow and the trapped air, including atmospheric gases such as CO2 and methane, shows how the Earth’s climate has changed over time.

The Antarctic fieldwork is challenging both scientifically and environmentally. Dome C (75° 06’S, 123° 21’E) is one of the most hostile places on the planet, and average annual temperatures are below –54 degrees Celsius. Researchers travel by tractor over thousands of kilometres of featureless snow where blizzards are common.

Bremerhaven, January 13, 2005


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Das Institut

Das Alfred-Wegener-Institut forscht in den Polarregionen und Ozeanen der mittleren und hohen Breiten. Als eines von 19 Forschungszentren der Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft koordiniert es Deutschlands Polarforschung und stellt Schiffe wie den Forschungseisbrecher Polarstern und Stationen für die internationale Wissenschaft zur Verfügung.