Exploration begins to discover Antarctica’s oldest ice 

Center for Oldest Ice Exploration (COLDEX) will be set up to bring together experts from across the United States to generate knowledge about earth’s climate system. 

Created On: Sep 10, 2021 19:30 ISTModified On: Sep 10, 2021 19:30 IST

The Oregon State University will lead an exploration to discover Antarctica’s oldest ice and learn more about how the earth’s climate has changed over the past several million years.

The exploration quest will be funded by the National Science Foundation. Ed Brook, principal investigator for COLDEX and paleoclimatologist in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences said, "This is fundamental exploration science."

He added that the main aim of the study is to see how the earth behaves when it is warmer than it has been in the last one million years. He said that in order to do that, we have to find and collect ice cores that go back that far.

COLDEX to be set up 

A Center for Oldest Ice Exploration (COLDEX) will be set up to bring together experts from across the United States to generate knowledge about earth’s climate system. The knowledge will be shared to advance efforts to address climate change and its impacts.

COLDEX is one of six new science and technology centers that were announced by the National Science Foundation. 

Objective of NSF 

The National Science Foundation, which was established in 1987, aims to support transformative, complex research programs in fundamental areas of science that require large-scale, long-term funding.

Antarctica's oldest ice

•The oldest record of the Antarctic ice currently dates back to about 800,000 years. The record was collected by drilling miles down from the continent’s surface.

•The principal investigator for COLDEX, Ed Brook said that the characteristics of the climate system were really different in the period between 800,000 years ago and 1.5 million years ago.

•The researchers presently hope to find a continuous record that goes back 1.5 million years or ice that is perhaps up to three million years old and even older. 

•Ice that is as old as up to three million years is not likely to be found in a continuous record, but initial research shows that patches of older ice are trapped in the mountains around Antarctica.

•The quest will be a collaborative affair and it will require a lot of modelling and new tools will be developed to help the researchers find the best locations to begin their search. The principal investigator of the study said that drilling ice cores is super hard and expensive and can take years of planning.

Significance 

As per Ed Brook, the ice and ancient air trapped in the mountains around Antartica will offer an unprecedented record of how greenhouse gases and climate are linked in warmer climates. The study is expected to help advance the understanding of what controls earth’s climate system in the long-term. 

Background 

The Oregon State University is home to the Marine and Geology Repository, which is one of the nation’s largest repositories for oceanic sediment cores that also houses Antarctic ice core samples stored in a freezer kept at 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The university is well qualified to lead COLDEX because the university has a growing polar science program. 

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