Quest begins to drill Antarctica’s oldest ice – again

Posted: December 7, 2021 by oldbrew in atmosphere, climate, data, Ice ages, research
Tags: , ,

Ice core sample [image credit: Discovering Antarctica]

Previous studies indicated temperature change preceded CO2 change, but the BBC says they occurred ‘in parallel’ or ‘in lockstep’, obscuring the key role of insolation while waffling about supposedly ‘heat trapping’ gases.
– – –
Efforts are about to get under way to drill a core of ice in Antarctica that contains a record of Earth’s climate stretching back 1.5 million years, says BBC News.

A European team will set up its equipment at one of the highest locations on the White Continent, for an operation likely to take four years.

The project aims to recover a near-3km-long cylinder of frozen material.

Scientists hope this ice can help them explain why Earth’s ice ages flipped in frequency in the deep past.

“Beyond EPICA”, as the project is known, is a follow-up to a similar venture at the turn of the millennium called simply EPICA (European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica).

The new endeavour will base itself a short distance away from the original at Little Dome C, an area located roughly 40km from the Italian-French Concordia Station, on the east Antarctic plateau.
. . .
The deep ice in Antarctica contains tiny bubbles of air. These little gas pockets are a direct snapshot of the historic atmosphere.

Scientists can read off the levels of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping components, such as methane.

Analysing the atoms in the water-ice molecules encasing the gases also gives an indication of the temperature that persisted at the time of the snowfall that gave rise to the ice.

When researchers drilled the original EPICA core, they uncovered a narrative of past climate temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide stretching back 800,000 years.

It’s become one of the key climate data-sets of recent decades.

It showed that CO2 and temperature moved in lock-step. Whenever the Earth went into an ice age and temperature fell, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would also decline. And when the climate warmed back up again, the CO2 rose in parallel.

These cycles occurred roughly every 100,000 years – a phasing that is most likely linked to slight shifts in the eccentricity of Earth’s orbit (a larger or smaller ellipse) around the Sun.

But it is recognised from an alternative record of past climate, which has been deciphered from ocean sediments, that deeper back in time the ice age cycle was much shorter – at about every 41,000 years.

That is a period probably dominated by the way the Earth tilts back and forth on its axis. But why the switch occurred, no-one is really sure. The new Beyond Epica core may contain some clues if its ices can extend the climate narrative back to 1.5 million years ago.

“We believe this ice core will give us information on the climate of the past and on the greenhouse gases that were in the atmosphere during the Mid-Pleistocene Transition (MPT), which happened between 900,000 and 1.2 million years ago,” said team-leader Carlo Barbante, the director of the Institute of Polar Sciences of the National Research Council of Italy.

“During this transition, climate periodicity between ice ages changed from 41,000 to 100,000 years: the reason why this happened is the mystery we hope to solve.”

Full article here.

  1. Gamecock says:

    I like this as basic research.

    Assertions like ‘Scientists hope this ice can help them explain why Earth’s ice ages flipped in frequency in the deep past,’ are likely invented by BBC, trying to make the activity relevant. Basic research doesn’t need to be.

  2. […] Quest begins to drill Antarctica’s oldest ice – again […]

  3. Scott says:

    I hope they remember to get the correct answer this time.

  4. peterandnen says:

    Ah! Jonathan Amos. I always look forward to reading stories by this BBC Science Correspondent (climate expert). I recall his web page story about ships waiting at anchor polluting Northern Africa when the Ever Given obstructed the Suez Canal. Sulphur concentrations were measured by satellite spiking in the atmosphere over the canal and the BBC jumped on it saying we needed “tighter regulations on sulphur emissions from shipping” and “move to even cleaner fuels”. The web page disappeared when somebody pointed out that it was a plume of gas from Mount Etna blowing in the wind. Nothing to do with the ice core project but always worth reminding Amos he is a pillock.

  5. Jim says:

    I appreciated the first graph of the article. It proved no global warming. It showed this warm period was less intense, and similar to other cooler time periods. My only question is , why throw away the first hundred meters? Its information is just as relevant as the last dug out chunk.

  6. ilma630 says:

    Even if they confirm that temperature led CO2, there’ll always be a “but…” to try and justify the current ‘CO2 led doom & gloom’ narrative. That’s a secure prediction.

  7. jb says:

    “climate periodicity between ice ages changed from 41,000 to 100,000 years: the reason why this happened is the mystery we hope to solve.”

    Drilling a second core won’t give the answer where the first one didn’t. This is one question they will not find an answer to. I expect a second core will be very near identical to the previous nearby. If it turns out not to be, it will throw the entire dating methodology into disarray. To my knowledge, they still haven’t resolved the ambiguity of their dating dilemma. So far no one has been able to explain the estuaries along the coast present on maps created in the last 10K years, suggesting the continent was largely devoid of snow/ice in recent history.

  8. oldbrew says:

    Surprises can lurk under the ice…

    Norwegian Archaeologists Uncover 1,300-Year-Old Ski Preserved In Ice

    The ski, uncovered with its primitive binding still attached, is the best-preserved prehistoric example to date.
    OCTOBER 6, 2021

  9. oldbrew says:


    CO2 follows ocean temperature, and there is zero empirical evidence of any reverse relationship.

  10. johnbuk says:

    I think they’re panicking in case the ice disappears in the next few weeks. Climate Armageddon is upon us.

  11. Paul Vaughan says:

    IT$[˚K]not enough….

    OB tuned in(k?)to Rial’s exploration hear, 11inkin’back[$][geographic organization]too C11ear matterrially.

  12. Phoenix44 says:

    Seems to be rather confused. The Earth has almost certainly always had changes in obliquity. That may well be changing slightly all the time. Changes in orbit causing earlier ice ages seems less likely and wouldn’t do away with obliquity changes anyway. I suspect part of the problem is that whenever we see repeated events we assume regular cycles. But that may not be the case if there are lots of independent variables, including the Earth’s internal temperature, plate tectonics and the sun’s activity

  13. Stephen Richards says:

    I like the jibe that CO² rose in parallel WITH THE TEMPERATURE

  14. Joe says:

    I’m not a scientist, but could someone explain his first graph showing CO2 and temp in tandom? I do know Vostok proved temps rose first, then CO2 some 200 years later. If the core study showed temps did not cause the ignition of increased temps, how is it his chart has them dancing together?

  15. oldbrew says:

    Joe says…
    – – –
    800,000 years on a chart a few centimetres wide can’t show 200 years clearly. It’s thousands of years per millimetre!

    Are they intentionally misleading people? You decide.

    From a report of a UK judge’s court verdict on Al Gore’s climate movie:
    Mr Gore had also claimed – by ridiculing the opposite view – that two graphs, one plotting a rise in CO2 and the other the rise in temperature over a period of 650,000 years, showed “an exact fit”. The judge said although scientists agreed there was a connection, “the two graphs do not establish what Mr Gore asserts”.

  16. Joe says:

    To Old Brew

    Thank you for explaining the graph. I see how such a small period of time can’t clearly be seen. But my opinion it looks deceptive. It gives the unscientific eye the impression CO2 just might be causing the surface equilibrium to rise. Unless one knows what Vostok actually proved.

    When you look at the interglacial, CO2 kept rising and temps kept falling. Hard to make an argument human cause is doing much of anything. Of course the unified theory of climate answers that question.

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