World's First Ice Archive To "Preserve Glacier Memory" For Future Generations To Study

Mount Illimani, one of the fastest-shrinking glacier mountains in the world, looms over the city of La Paz in Bolivia. astudio/Shutterstock

An international coalition of scientists has joined forces to create the world’s first global ice archive to preserve samples for future generations to study.

The Ice Memory Project wants to preserve ice cores from the world’s endangered glaciers in a sanctuary in Antarctica for scientists to have quality raw material to study in the future.

“In the coming decades, or even the coming centuries, these samples will be invaluable – be it for entirely unprecedented scientific discoveries or for understanding local changes in the environment,” says Jean Jouzel, climatologist and Nobel Peace Prize winner on their website. “This project has my full support.”

The plan is to drill and retrieve ice core samples from some of the highest mountain glaciers that are most at risk from climate change to “preserve the memory of the past”.

Like trees, non-polar glaciers are incredibly useful for storing information that can be studied. They record changes in climate and atmospheric conditions, including temperature variations and emissions of both natural gases and human-made pollutants, helping us understand former climates and predict coming environmental changes.

The project was instigated by French and Italian glaciologists back in 2015 and, after a successful trial run last year in Mont Blanc in the French Alps to demonstrate the feasibility of the project, they are ready to start a new expedition in the field to collect core samples.

In partnership with scientists from Brazil, Bolivia, and Russia, the researchers are starting work on Bolivia’s second-highest mountain, Illimani, this week, drilling down into the bedrock to take three ice core samples, around 150 meters long (nearly 500 feet).

Bolivia’s glaciers are melting at a frightening rate. According to a study last year, 43 percent of its glaciers shrank between 1986 and 2014, sadly making them excellent to study.

Once retrieved, one of the samples will make its way to Grenoble, France, to be studied, while the other two will be shipped to Concordia, the Franco-Italian research station in Antarctica, where they will be stored in a “snow cave”.

Antarctica is the perfect place to store valuable scientific data and material, due to the ice’s deep-freeze ability to protect items at a regulated temperature and provide defenses – though climate change may be casting doubt on the future of its infallibility.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault – or “Doomsday” vault – gave the world a scare recently when the permafrost surrounding it began melting due to record temperatures in the region. Luckily, no seeds were lost, and hopefully, by the time the Bolivian ice core samples arrive in 2020, the Ice Memory Project will have built its fortress to secure the study of climate change for generations to come. 

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