Scientists are preparing to drill the most ancient ice in Antarctica. Their goal is to identify the changes that the Earth has experienced over 1.5 million years.

Ancient ice deposits contain tiny air bubbles, and their content is a “screenshot” of the Earth’s history over a very long time. A thousand-year history of changes in temperature and atmospheric composition is imprinted in the ice.

Researchers plan to extract and study a 3 km long block of ice to determine the amount of greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide that have been present in the past.

There is a chance that this information will give the team clues about how the Earth will react to the rise in temperature. And, perhaps, it will be possible to find out how often the planet went through ice ages. This data will be useful to scientists who simulate future climate change.

In the previous EPICA project (European Project for the Study of Ice Cores in Antarctica) in 2008, we managed to extract and analyze an ice core 800 thousand years old

Carlo Barbante, Leading Scientist
The first sample of Antarctic ice showed that as temperatures fell and the Earth went through an ice age, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere decreased. As soon as the climate began to warm up again, the volume of carbon dioxide also began to grow.

These cycles occur on average once every 100 thousand years, but in the more ancient history of the Earth, the cycles were much shorter. Researchers are trying to figure out what is causing this shift. Drilling is due to start this year, and if all goes according to plan, it could take another five years to collect and analyze samples.

“We want to travel back even further and get a good understanding of what the world is experiencing today in relation to climate change,” adds Barbante.

The first location to drill is Dome C in the east of the Antarctic Plateau, one of the most extreme locations on Earth. Glaciologists, engineers and technicians will work at an altitude of 3,233 meters above sea level. Fortunately, it is now summer there and the temperature is only around -35 ° C.

Called Beyond EPICA, the project brought together experts from 10 European countries and 16 different research institutes.