This Record-Shattering 2.7-Million-Year-Old Ice Core Reveals Secrets Of Earth’s History

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Scientists have revealed that an Antarctica drilled core has given them ice that is 2.7 million years old, which is 1.7 million years older than the ice that had held the previous record.

Ice Is Incredible Valuable Find, The Only Sample Of Atmosphere From Ancient Earth

Bubbles which had formed in the ice have greenhouse gases that come from the atmosphere of the Earth during a time when the cycles of the planet glacial advance and its retreat were just starting. This will potentially reveal clues to scientists of what might have started the Ice Ages. David Shuster, from the University of California at Berkeley, said that that information on its own ensures that the ice recovered is a valuable sample that is incredible. He went on to say that it was the only sample of the atmosphere of ancient Earth that scientists are going to have access to.

A graduate student at the Princeton University, Yuzhen Yan, described the find at the Paris Goldschmidt Conference. The ice reveals the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and shows that they had not been about 300 parts per million. This, of course, is well under the levels that are seen today. Models of an ancient climate had predicted that levels as low as this might tip Earth into a series of Ice Ages. However, proxies taken from animals fossils that used to live in the ocean that was shallow had given an indication of the CO2 levels being higher. It was said that if the results prove to hold up the proxies are going to need recalibration and scientists are going to have to work hard.

Scientists Only Just Scratching The Surface

The new discovery of the ice may even point to ways of finding ice that is even older as it comes from an area of blue ice that up to now has for the most part being ignored. This is said to be a region where the dynamics were peculiar, and it could preserve old layers. The blue ice does offer just a fragmentary view of the past, but it could become a hunting ground for ancient ice according to geochemist, Ed Brook, from the Oregon State University. He said that ice that is that old does tend to make people notice and right now scientists are just scratching the surface.

The ice cores in Antarctica and Greenland are mainstays among modern climate science. Generally, scientists would drill down into regions where the ice layers have been left to accumulate year on year and which have been undisturbed by glacial flows. The layer cake that is long records from sites that are deep in the middle of Antarctica and it reveals how the greenhouse gases have managed to ebb and surge over many hundreds of thousands of years. However, as the heat from the bedrock below it can melt the oldest and deepest ice, the approach has not, up to yet, yielded ice that is older than 800,000 years, which was taken from a core that had been drilled at the Dome C in Antarctica during 2004.

Core Found In Shallow Blue Ice Is 2.7 Million Years Old

Instead of drilling deep into the interior of Antarctica, the scientists found the core, said to be 2.7 million years old in the shallow blue ice. This is where the glacial flows tend to bring any ice that is old up to the surface.

The team, which is Princeton led, was looking for ice that was sitting closer to the surface and they looked in Allan Hills, which is a region to the East that is wind swept and which is about 200 kilometers from the McMurdo Station. In blue ice regions such as this only 1% of the surface of the continent, the ice can flow over rocky ridges, and it tips the record on its side. The older deeper layers are driven up, and the wind strips the snow, and this leaves the younger ice, a lustrous blue in color, and compressed. Contortions such as this only go towards confounding the neat order of the yearly layers, which makes it impossible to put a date on the ice when counting.

Princeton geochemist, Michael Bender, was behind the project and he solved this issue as he found a way to be able to date the chunks of ice straight from the trace amounts of potassium and argon gases they contain. This may not be as precise as other methods of dating; however, the technique has been able to put a date on the ice to around 100,000 years.

In 2010 Ice Was Discovered At Allen Hills Dating Back 1 Million Years

The teams at Allan Hills were able to drill the first hole in 2010, and they chose a region that was shallow and which was thought to ascend a hill, with there being a chance of ice being stuck up against the bedrock. The team drilled horizontally heading towards the hill, and they hoped that the ice would get older the further they drilled down. At 128 meters they ran out of time, and this was before they managed to reach the bedrock. The unfinished core had given them ice that was said to be around 1 million years of age. This was the first ice sample that they had managed to get that was older than 800,000 years. The ice was said to come from a time when the glacial periods had been moving from happening every 40,000 years to 100,000 years.

The team went back to the site in 2015 and this time they were met with an environment that was harsh thanks to a strong cold wind. John Higgins, the Princeton geochemist, said that even though they had to deal with the wind, they managed to drill down 20 meters to the bedrock and found ice and new cores that gave them ancient samples.

It is not thought that the traditional efforts are going to match the sample of Allan Hills in age says geologist John Goodge. Many teams have pursued the sites and they go back 1.5 million years or so, but this is hopeful. Therefore the ice core at Allan Hills may stand alone for some time to come. The team from Princeton now wants to head back and drill the blue ice some more, with the hope of being able to fill in the cycles of the climate over the past 2.7 million years using many snapshots. They also want to go even deeper back in time, before the Ice Age, when it is thought that the CO2 levels were higher.

It has been suggested that some of the ice in Antarctica has been around for 30 million years. Perhaps the next time they drill it will reveal ice dating back 5 million years old.

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