The Alps: Antarctica soon to be a bank of ice cores

sep article

FOCUS – Are the glaciers threatened by climate change? In order that these archives, which are true studies by climate science laboratories, do not disappear, researchers have a project to store samples in Antarctica. The first ice core bank is being planned, kicking-off in 2016, with the first drilling in the Mont Blanc massif.



Tente de forage au col du Dôme, à 4.250m d’altitude au sommet du massif du Mont Blanc. En 2016, des carottes de glace y seront prélevées pour être acheminées et conservées en Antarctique. Crédit Bruno Jourdain, LGGE/OSUG/UJF

A drilling tent has been set-up at the Dôme mountain pass, at an altitude of 4,250m, on the summit of Mont Blanc. In 2016, ice cores will be collected from there and transported to Antarctica for storage. © Bruno Jourdain, LGGE/OSUG/UJF


Are the glaciers threatened with extinction? Not yet, but the project is for researchers to freeze threatened ice samples, therefore, creating a ‘bank’ of ice cores, (relatively) protected from global warming


The first sample should be collected at the beginning of 2016, from Mont-Blanc. The ice cores will then be transported to Antarctica, from the French-Italian Concordia base, which guarantees a temperature of -53°C.


It’s the best freezer in the world”, says Jérôme Chappellaz, director of research at the laboratory of glaciology and environmental geophysics in Grenoble (LGGE). “The ice cores will be safe, even in the event of global conflict. There is no need for electricity; they will remain cold, even if the temperature rises by 10°C on the Antarctic plateau, by the end of the century. The ice cores will not be in danger at -43°C.”




Disappearing archive




Jérôme Chapellaz, directeur de recherche CNRS au laboratoire de glaciologie de Grenoble. Credit CNRS Photothèque / Cyril FRESILLON

Jérôme Chappellaz, director of research at the laboratory of glaciology and environmental geophysics in Grenoble. © CNRS Photothèque – Cyril Fresillon

What is the objective? Build a wealth of information to pass on to future generations, at the time of climate change, between global warming and decreased rainfall, affecting the planet’s glaciers. In the space of ten years, the alpine glacier at the Dôme pass, at an altitude of 4,300 meters, on Mont Blanc, and the Bolivian glacier, Illimani, above La Paz, have warmed by 1.5 to 2°C. The glacier Taconnaz, overlooking the Chamonix valley, is coming dangerously close to melting point.


We are the only community, working on the climates of the past, to see the archives disappear”, warns the French scientist. “It is time to do something, immediately, while the glaciers can still provide exploitable material.”


By drilling and dating the ice, researchers hope to understand the present better, or even anticipate the future. This is the case in Nepal, where glaciology laboratory scientists from Grenoble are working alongside local researchers, drilling a Himalayan glacier. The objective: to understand better the evolution of Indian monsoons and the regional pollution sources.




A UNESCO accredited project




In 2009, French scientists, in association with their colleagues from South America, launched an international appeal, with no great response. Today, led by Grenoble’s laboratory of glaciology, as well as the French Paul-Emile Victor Polar Institute, the Institute of research and development (IRD), the CNRS, and with the support of the Grenoble’s Joseph Fourier University Foundation, they want to do otherwise, by looking for sponsors, in order to mount the first operations. They are relying on UNESCO’s accreditation of this initiative to encourage investors.


This “initiative contributes to UNESCO’s mandate”, explained Anil Mishra, hydrology specialist in the international organisation, which, since the 1960s and 70s, has been calling for a global inventory of perennial ice and glaciers, all indicators of climate change.


We must help science to understand the impact of climate change on glaciers and water resources, in order to enable countries to make the right decisions, be it in India, Central Asia or Europe.”


Patricia Cerinsek




Traduction from Speak English Center

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