The North and South Poles, indicators of global climate change: Commission presents the latest polar research

February 28, 2003

Brussels, February 2003

On 28 February, the Commission will present the latest climate change research on board the "Polarstern" research vessel in Bremerhaven (Germany). The"European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica" (EPICA), the "Arctic Ice Cover Simulation Experiment" (AICSEX) and "Pole - Ocean Pole" (POP) project analyse polar ice, ocean sediments and the Arctic ice cover to study climate change. "Ice cores" deep underground or underwater store key substances, which can help explain how and why climate has changed in the last decades, and contribute to making more accurate predictions of future changes. The oldest ice ever found was recently extracted from over 3,000 metres underground in Antarctica. It can provide key information about past and future climate conditions.

"Europe is at the forefront of international efforts in polar research. The North and South Poles are unique indicators of climate change processes and therefore polar research is a key element in our overall research effort on global climate change, " said EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. "There are some other "ice coring" research initiatives around the world, supported by the USA, Russia or Japan, but EPICA provides the oldest ice ever retrieved in Antarctica. These ice samples allow us to go further back in time and to better understand past climate, including the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Likewise the findings from the AICSEX project showing dramatic changes in Arctic ice cover, possibly linked to climate change, may have major economic impacts, which need to be addressed at the international level."

Air composition was first measured in the 1950s. No earlier records are available and therefore we have to rely on polar ice-core analysis as our only source of information. Recent observations show a dramatic thinning of the Arctic ice cover. The one-day briefing will look into how this is linked to climate change, and provide insights into the retrieval and evaluation of natural 'archives' of climate history.

European Polar Research Projects

The focus of the meeting will be the presentation of three outstanding European polar research projects on board the Polarstern, prior to its departure from Bremerhaven to an Arctic mission. The Polarstern, a double-hulled icebreaker, spends approximately 320 days in the Arctic or Antarctic each year and can operate at temperatures as low as - 50ºC.

The "European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica" (EPICA ) will describe how the oldest ice was retrieved. This ice was recovered near bedrock, from a depth of over 3,000 metres and is around 800,000 years old. Journalists will learn what this ice tells us about emissions of greenhouse gases, temperatures, atmospheric composition, pollution, precipitation and volcanic eruptions in the past. This project, which has been running since 1995, has received EU support of about €10 million.

The "Arctic Ice Cover Simulation Experiment" (AICSEX) will demonstrate how data gathered in the Arctic regions is evaluated. Emphasis will be on the climate changes affecting the Arctic Ocean ice cover and the possible consequences resulting from the present dramatic thinning of the ice. There will also be a presentation on expected future developments, based on conclusions from advanced climate models.

The "Pole - Ocean Pole" (POP) project analyses deep-sea sediment and ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica for the same length of time, to establish "cause-and-effect" relations in the climate system. This project will provide unique insights into the climatic changes across the globe

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DN: IP/03/288 Date: /02/2003

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