Ice library to get its first frosty deposit from French mountain

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The Concordia Research Station in Antarctica will soon be receiving an ice core from France in an effort to preserve the historical data it contains(Credit: ESA)

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Just a couple of days ago, NASA announced that there is 40 percent less Arctic sea ice in the world than there was in the late 1970s. This followed the news that this January to June represented the hottest months in recorded history. For scientists who study the Earth's ice – a valuable recorder of the past – this means that their very archives are vanishing. To take action, the Protecting Ice Memory project was launched in 2015. Now it's about to get its first deposit.

Starting on August 15 and continuing through early September, a team of glaciologists and engineers from around the world will be drilling 130-meter-long (427-ft) ice cores at the Col du Dôme in France. The top of this mountain reaches a height of 4,300 m (14,108 ft) and is part of the Mont Blanc Massif in the French Alps near the border with Switzerland.

Three cores will be taken.

One will go via helicopter and then ground transport to the Laboratory of Glaciology and Environmental Geophysics (LGGE) in Grenoble, France. There it will be analyzed and the results put online with the goal of building an ice database that will be available for researchers.

The other two will be shipped and then trucked to the French- and Italian-run Concordia Research Station in Antarctica for storage. As part of the Protecting Ice Memory project, "the long-term plan is to have dozens of ice core archives stored in a snow cave at -54 ºC [-65 ºF] — the most reliable and natural freezer in the world," says the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), which is involved in the initiative.

Along the way, the IRD says, "a strict cold chain" will be maintained to keep the samples from melting.

These initial cores will be joined by those from the Illimani glacier in the Andes in Bolivia in 2017. At both Illimani and Col du Dôme, researchers have seen temperatures climb by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius every 10 years. The IRD forecasts that if such warming continues, the surfaces of the icy landmarks will start melting in the summer months. Before that happens, the consortium aims to preserve what it can.

"We are the only community of scientists working on climate to see a chunk of its archives disappearing. We urgently needed to build this heritage for the future, much like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault kept on the island of Spitsbergen," says Jérôme Chappellaz, referring to the highly secure library of plant seeds in Norway. Chappellaz is the man who initiated the Protecting Ice Memory project along with his Italian counterpart, Carlo Barbante from the CNR, the Italian National Research Council.

The hope is that the samples from France and Bolivia will eventually be joined by more from glaciers in from other countries including Germany, Switzerland, the United States, Nepal, Brazil and Canada.

"Our generation of scientists, which bears witness to global warming, has a particular responsibility to future generations," added Barbante. "That is why we will be donating these ice samples from the world's most fragile glaciers to the scientific community of the decades and centuries to come, when these glaciers will have disappeared or lost their data quality."

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