Will New Ice Cores Yield New Climate Clues?

Researchers have retrieved four ice cores from a glacier high atop Mount Ortles in northeastern Italy, and hope to extract a record of past climate and environmental changes in the region dating back several centuries, and hopefully as far back as a thousand years.

Mount Ortles (Ortler)

These ice cores mark the first successful ice cores drilled to bedrock from a glacier in the eastern European Alps, and the scientists hope that they contain the remnants of early human activity in the region.

The four cores measured in at 75 metres long for three of them, and a 60 metre fourth.

One of the concerns regarding ice cores extracted from the region was the likelihood that the glacier was at too low of an altitude to have preserved a perfect record, unmarred by melt water trickling downwards through the core and messing with the record. However the remaining two thirds of the ice core was unaffected, and the research team believe that they will be able to retrieve climate history from it.

“This glacier is already changing from the top down in a very irreversible way,” explained expedition leader Paolo Gabrielli, a research scientist at Ohio State’s Byrd Polar Research Center.  “It is changing from a ‘cold’ glacier where the ice is stable to a ‘temperate’ glacier where the ice can degrade.”

“The entire glacier may transition to a temperate state within the next decade or so.”

Gabrielle noted that previous research has already shown that there has been an increase in summer temperatures at high elevations in the region of up to 2 degrees Celsius over the past three decades. Nevertheless, the researchers hope to extract a climate record starting somewhere in the 1980s and moving back several centuries, and hopefully more.

Recent weather patterns will only appear in the extracted climate record in a restricted area of 10 to 100 killometres away. However moving farther back, the scientists believe that a wider area will be covered in the climate record, up to 1,000 kilometres.

Source: Ohio State University

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