European scientists look back 750,000 years through Antarctic ice core

September 9, 2003

Brussels, 08 Sep 2003

A 3,200 metre ice core removed from the Antarctic and shipped back to labs across Europe will reveal information about what conditions were like on Earth up to 750,000 years ago.

The sample, the oldest ever retrieved, was removed from the Dome Concordia region by scientists working on the European project for ice coring in Antarctica (EPICA). The long term initiative has been running for over seven years, and is currently funded under the energy, environment and sustainable development section of the Fifth Framework Programme.

Researchers working in laboratories in each of the ten countries involved in the project will use oxygen and hydrogen isotopes trapped in the ice to work out what the temperature was when it formed. Periods of global warming will be revealed through the presence of high levels of carbon dioxide and methane.

Such methods recently formed the basis of the most comprehensive study of the world's climate ever carried out.

The team has already used markers in the ice, such as dust and gas, to match different layers to known events, such as volcanic eruptions or ice ages, in order to date the sample. The results confirmed that the sample dates back some 750,000 years.

Previously, the oldest ice core removed from Antarctica revealed information as far back as 420,000 years, so the new sample will give researchers their first glimpse of conditions before that time.

Some scientists also hope that the Dome Concordia sample will be old enough to reveal what changes occurred the last time the Earth's magnetic field reversed. Very little is currently known about how the planet's climate is affected by such a reversal.

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CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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