An unprecedented research project in paleoclimatology will rewind the tape of the Earth’s climate history going back 1.5 million years by extracting the oldest ice core from the deep ice in Antarctica. This is the aim of Beyond EPICA Oldest Ice, the international research project funded by the European Commission with 11 million euro and coordinated by Italy through the Institute of Polar Sciences of the National Research Council (CNR-ISP).
The Beyond EPICA Oldest Ice project involves an ice core drilling campaign that will be conducted at Little Dome C in Antarctica, located 40 km from the Italian-French Concordia Station and over 1,000 km from the coast, one of the most extreme places on Earth where temperatures don’t get above -35°C during the average Antarctic summer and can fall below -80°C during the freezing winter. Here the international research team will extract the ice core at an average coring rate of 170 m per week.
The Beyond EPICA Oldest Ice project will benefit from the synergy with the activities carried out as part of the Italian National Antarctic Research Programme (PNRA) funded by the Ministry of University and Research, in which the CNR is coordinator of the scientific activities and ENEA is responsible for the implementation of the expeditions. Beyond EPICA Oldest Ice is the evolution of the EPICA-European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica, in which Italy took part, and which allowed researchers to reconstruct the composition of the atmosphere and temperatures 800 thousand years ago by analysing an ice core over 3000 m deep extracted from the Antarctic ice sheet.
“During our previous EPICA (European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica) project, which ended in 2008, we managed to extract and analyse an 800,000-year-old ice core. Now we are trying to travel back further in time because if we are to gain a correct perspective on what the world is currently experiencing with climate change, and adopt suitable mitigating strategies, we must look back even further, which is what we are trying to do in Antarctica with Beyond EPICA,” said Carlo Barbante, project coordinator and director of the CNR-ISP.
The study of the deep ice will provide invaluable data on climate trends over thousands of years. By studying the ice, for example, researchers will be able to determine the content of greenhouse gases, such as methane and carbon dioxide, which were present in the atmosphere of the past, link these findings with the evolution of temperature and thus answer important scientific questions.
“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. 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,” concluded Barbante.