EU project shows Antarctica temperature rise in last 170,000 years

January 17, 2002

Brussels, 16 January 2002

EU project shows Antarctica temperature rise in last 170,000 years

Recent data obtained by a team of 22 scientists working on the EU project EPICA (European project for ice coring in Antarctica) has shown that the Antarctic is 10 degrees Celsius warmer than 170,000 years ago. Project participant Roland Souchez told CORDIS News that these results cannot, however, be compared with recent US research claiming that the Antarctica is getting colder.

The scientists are involved in a seven year project to determine the history of the Earth's climate and atmosphere, or to 'reconstruct the climate of the past,' in the words of Roland Souchez from the Free University of Brussels. The team is using the climate record obtained from ice to investigate the relationship between the chemistry of the atmosphere and climate changes over the past 500,000 years, particularly the effects of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides. The results will be used to test and enhance computer models used to predict the climate in the future.

Early in January the team drilled through 2002 metres of ice at Dome Concordia, high on East Antarctica's plateau. A specially created laboratory on the ice allowed scientists to analyse past climate shifts within hours of the drilling, instead of sending samples back to laboratories in Europe and waiting for results. Proof of a rise in the region's temperature comes from the ice 2002 metres below the surface, which the scientists say came from snow that fell 170,000 years ago.

'The Antarctic ice sheet is like a history book of the Earth's climate. This drilling programme takes us back to the future. Information about how climate worked in the past is locked in the ice. Understanding this helps predict future changes. It's fascinating to think that 170,000 years ago global sea level was 120 metres lower than now and the temperature at the equator was six degrees Celsius colder,' says Dr Eric Wolff of the British Antarctic Survey and current chief scientists for EPICA at the Antarctic site.

A team of US scientists have meanwhile claimed that the Antarctica is cooling, saying that the average air temperature at the Earth's surface has increased by 0.06 degrees Celsius per decade during the 20th century, and by 0.19 degrees Celsius per decade from 1979 to 1998. However, Mr Souchez told CORDIS News that this research couldn't be compared with the EPICA project, as the research teams are using a different timescale. 'It is difficult to go from one timescale to another - [the EPICA timescale] in my opinion is more important for the human race,' Mr Souchez told CORDIS News.

EPICA involves 13 partners from ten European countries: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. It is coordinated by the European science foundation (ESF) and funded by the EU under the Fifth Framework programme's Energy, environment and sustainable development programme and the countries involved. The total budget for the seven year project is 7.06 million euro, 2.41 million of which is being provided by the European Commission.

The research team will complete this season's drilling at Dome Concordia at the end of January, after which ice cores will be sent to over 30 European laboratories for more detailed study. The team will return next year to drill to the bottom of the ice.

January 2002 also sees the start of drilling at Dronning Maud Land, one of the least explored regions of Antarctica and on the opposite side of the continent to Dome Concordia. This site receives double the snowfall of Dome Concordia, thus enabling scientists to obtain even more detailed information, although it will not reach so far back in time.

For further information, please consult the following web address:

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2001

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