A Scripps Institution researcher joins an expedition in Antarctica to study the planet’s oldest ice. Photo credit: @Scripps_Ocean, via Twitter

Two researchers, including one from San Diego, journeyed to Antarctica as part of effort to uncover the planet’s oldest ice.

The research trip is part of a cordial international race among geologists and climate scientists to find the ice. That’s because they  expect the mission to offer new insight into Earth’s climate history.

Paleoclimatologist Jeff Severinghaus of Scripps Institution of Oceanography arrived this month at an ice-drilling outpost at McMurdo Station. University of Minnesota-Duluth geologist John Goodge joined him in Antarctica.

In October, Severinghaus and researchers at Princeton University published a study in the journal Nature. Scripps also documents their work on at the Polar Center portion of the institution’s web site.

They analyzed an ice core estimated to be 2 million years old, yet that core presented an incomplete historical portrait. According to Severinghaus’ ice-dating lab, the planet’s oldest ice is roughly 2.7 million years old.

“That core … was all broken up,” Severinghaus said of the Princeton study. “It’s like in archaeology when you find pieces of broken pottery you’re trying to put back together.”

The two researchers want to expedite the conventional ice-drilling process. It currently takes roughly five years to dig two miles to the Antarctic ice shelf’s deepest point.

They believe their 50-ton drill will allow them access to a 50-meter ice core. In turn, the core would reveal a full timeline of the continent’s geologic development.

Eventually, the drill also could be used to dig to the continent’s bedrock, which dates back 3 billion years.

As climate change continues to melt Antarctic ice and cause sea levels to rise, geologists and climate scientists in the southern hemisphere race to make discoveries. The issue is particularly acute on the continent’s western edge, according to Goodge.

“The bigger question is what’s happening in East Antarctica because there’s a lot more sea level rise potential if it begins to melt as well,” he said. “So we really need to understand what those conditions are.”

Once collected, the researchers plan to pack the ice samples in boxes. When the Antarctic sea ice thaws, they will ship the samples to Port Hueneme in Ventura County.

They will then be transported to the National Science Foundation’s Ice Core Facility in Lakewood, Colo., for study in late spring.

– City News Service

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