31 July 2010

Oldest Greenland Ice Core Recovered

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Your's truly looking at the ice core from 2,500 meters beneath the Greenland Ice Cap. The science trench where the drill is located is -20C and is about 10 meters below the surface. Dan's pic.

I’ve just returned today from Greenland and am looking forward to seeing my first “night” in 10 days!

The 14 countries that have supported the NEEM ice core project got their money’s worth this week. The two year project to drill an ice core through 2,500 meters of ice finally reached Greenland rock.

Where Is It

NEEM at Midnight- Dan's Pic.

The NEEM site is at 8,300 feet on top of the ice sheet. I arrived there a week ago Tuesday and was a guest for 8 nights. There were 38 of us in a small camp in the middle of a magnificent desolation of white.

The population of this tiny outpost is an international mix of young and older scientists, researchers and ice core drilling experts. Many like Jim White, the Director of the Stable Isotope Lab at INSTAAR are renowned experts in their fields.

It was a fun and fascinating 9 days with top ice scientists from Denmark, France, USA,Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand.

There was a riot of different accents but everyone had one thing in common.

Scientific curiosity.

Among those in science, that always transcends national borders, languages and cultures.

About NEEM

James White of the University of Colorado and director of INSTAAR.

I was a guest of Paleoclimate expert  Jim White the director of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) at the Uni. of Colorado. Dr. White arranged the support of the National Science Foundation. After Denmark, the NSF was the second biggest funder of NEEM.

So what did the folks at NEEM do in plain language?

They pulled up ice that was once falling as snow in Greenland around 150,000 years ago! Then they analysed and read it like a climate history book. This was the first time that a boat load of science was done on an ice core as it was being obtained.

This was during the ice age that preceded the Eemian. The Eemian is the warm period before our last ice age. This means we now have an ice core that goes all the way back through the Holocene (The warm period after the last ice age in which we now live), the ice age before the Holocene, and then the warm period before the last ice age (The Eemian) and finally into the penultimate ice age before the Eemian!

This is from the Antarctic VOSTOK ice core. Notice how stable the climate has been during the short blip of time called the Holocene. Virtually all of civilisation developed in the Holocene. Notice how unstable the climate was before! NEEM has now obtained a core from Greenland that goes back a similar period to that shown here. (NOAA)

Knowing what the climate of Earth was like in the Eemian is vitally important. The main reason is because there is overwhelming evidence the Earth will be as warm as the Eemian by the end of this century.

It should not be. The best evidence we have is that the Earth should be cooling slightly. It is actually doing just the opposite because of rapidly rising greenhouse gases.

There is no doubt among the scientists that we will continue to warm. Even if we quit burning fossil fuels tonight, the planet will continue to warm at least another degree. That’s because a lot of the warming has been stored in the oceans. If we keep burning coal and oil, the warming will be much more severe.

There is little debate about that in the science community. Almost none actually.

NEEM Camp- Dan's pic (click to make real big)

The Scary Bit Is What Is Not Known.

Could there be a rapid warming?

A significant jump in temperature that happens in a decade?

Sound crazy?

Think again., The ice core at NEEM and the other Greenland cores all show that this has happened many times in the past. Very abrupt warmings are part of our climate. The question is what are the tipping points that cause these. The bigger question is are we about to reach one.

This ice core at NEEM may hold very important clues.

Pictures and Video

I took thousands of pics and made 5 hours of video at NEEM. We will air reports on WHNT for those in North Alabama and there will be an in-depth documentary about NEEM coming as well from Dave Jones at Storm Center Communications. I was part of the three man team that Dave sent.

My colleagues, David Stroud and Robert Freeland, and I had an incredible adventure. I learned more of the latest climate science in 8 days than I could have in a year at home. (I had captive climate experts to ask questions of and I took advantage.)

We were there when NEEM reached bedrock.

Stay tuned here for the pictures and the story. I think you will find it fascinating.

One thing for sure, the phrase “snow on the toilet paper” will have a significant meaning to me for the rest of my life!

More soon after I sleep for awhile!