Ice Core Recovered from West Antarctica

Scientists from the South Dakota University made history this year by retrieving additional ice from the main borehole as part of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet Divide Ice Core project.

According to South Dakota State University Professor Jihong Cole-Dai of the chemistry and biochemistry department, a slice of ice from 17,500 years ago can help scientists figure out how the Earth came out of the Ice Age and how climate change can happen in the future. Cole-Dai and graduate student, Kari Peterson, spent almost a month in Antarctica during Christmas break as part of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet Divide Ice Core project in order to retrieve an ice core more than two miles deep that could reveal answers about 70,000 years of information about the Earth’s climate.

The SDSU Ice Core and Environment Chemistry Lab, headed by Cole-Dai, has been a part of the project since 2006. It took eight years to build the field camp and to collect the original ice core, because the harsh Antarctica conditions allow only a 60-day window each year in which to work. That task was finally completed in January 2012.

“This year was significant because of the completion of additional field work,” Cole-Dai said. “Scientists wanted more ice to do further work on specific time periods. To do so, the team retrieved additional ice from five spots along the original ice core hole, while also leaving the lower portion of the hole intact.”

When the drillers brought up cylinders of ice, they handed them over to the core-processing team. Cole-Dai and Peterson were on the team that took measurements and logged the information regarding the cores from the designated time periods and packaged the ice cylinders to transport to the National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver.

Once the cores have been processed in Denver, each university lab will get its slice of the ice for analysis, which will likely take a year, Cole-Dai said. His SDSU team will work on a section of ice from 17,500 years ago that offers clues as to why the Earth began to emerge from the Ice Age.