Newly Discovered Antarctic Ice Core Could Hide a Million Years of History Inside It

Thursday, 24 May 2018 - 6:10PM
Earth
Thursday, 24 May 2018 - 6:10PM
Newly Discovered Antarctic Ice Core Could Hide a Million Years of History Inside It
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Flickr/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Ice cores, long vertical samples taken from glaciers and ice sheets, can tell us a lot about the past - details in each individual layer of the sample contains clues about the age when it was formed, and big enough samples can go way back in time.

And new evidence published in Geophysical Research Letters point to one of the biggest ice cores we've ever come across. Up until now, the largest known ice core was located in Dome C on the Antarctic Plateau, and extended deep enough into the Antarctic sheets that it contained about 800,000 years of history once its continuous 10,725 feet (3,270 meters) were drilled into and uncovered.

But it now seems very likely that an even bigger stretch of uninterrupted ice core is located in Antarctica's Allan Hills Blue Ice Area, and it could include samples dating back over a million years. 



While that area, found in the Trans-Antarctic Mountains, was thought to be far too steep to go undisturbed for such a long time, signs pointing to the contrary slowly began to build up. Not long ago, a team of researchers from Princeton found shattered ice samples dating back 2.7 million years, but their original source was unknown.

And then researchers from the University of Washington (who put together the new evidence) hauled ice-penetrating radars to take a closer look, finding a spot that would be a perfect candidate just 3 miles (5 kilometers) from where the Princeton sample was found. 

Since the team is only just receiving permission to begin drilling in that spot, there's no confirmation just yet that it exists. But we're about to find out, and if it does exist and scientists can take a close look at it, there's a lot of mysteries that could be solved by examining such a pristine ice record.




Namely, one big mystery is how Earth suddenly lengthened the amount of time between its ice ages about 1 million years ago, with ice ages now happening every 100,000 years instead of every 41,000 years. There's never been a concrete explanation for what caused this, and a long ice core like this one could be extremely valuable.

Now they just have to dig it up. Ideally, they won't dig up some Lovecraftian horror too, because that would really rain on the whole "scientific discovery" parade.
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