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Ice memory archive project to commence in Mont Blanc massif

A team of scientists will extract three ice cores from a glacier on the Col Du Dome which sits just below the summit of Mont Blanc. Jeff Pachoud/AFP

Starting August 15, a team of ten glaciologists and engineers from France, Italy, Russia and the US will be a part of a mission to extract three ice cores from a glacier on the Col Du Dome which is located just below the summit of Mont Blanc.

“It is very important to study ice cores because it’s an archive of past climatic and environmental conditions. It’s very unique when compared to sea or lake sediments that do not record the same type of information,” team coordinator Patrick Ginot told RFI.

Ginot, who is a research engineer at the Laboratory of Glaciology and Environmental Geophysics (LGGE) in Grenoble, said that the ice cores from places like the Alps and the Andes also give information concerning the impact of emissions from industries and from bio mass burning. “This information is not available in the ice cores from the polar regions because they are too far from the emission sources,” he said.

The project was conceived after scientists noticed a rise in temperature on several glaciers, including those on the Col Du Dome which witnessed a 1.5 to 2 degree Celsius rise in just 10 years.

“In places like Col du Dome, we discovered that the warming could result in surface melting because of which we could lose the information recorded in the upper parts of the snow layers. It is therefore important to archive these samples before most of the information gets lost. What’s more, this is one of the only archives which we can lose in the future decades,” Ginot said.

The team will extract three ice cores each of which measures 130 metres in length. These cores will be stored in cold rooms in Grenoble. One of the cores will be analysed in 2019 at LGGE in order to provide a full data set to scientists working on the subject.

The other two cores will be shipped in 2020 to ‘Dome C’ station in central Antarctica. “There, they will be stored for few decades or even centuries in a cave at – 50 degree Celsius without using any energy. It’s the best place for long-term storage,” Ginot said.

The project is not restricted to the Alps alone. The team will conduct a similar operation in 2017 on the Illimani glacier in the Bolivian Andes.

Ginot said that ice cores from different regions of the world will provide a variety of information. “The Col du Dome has information on European industrial emissions. On the other hand, the ice in Bolivian Andes preserves history of bio mass burning of the Amazonian basin,” he said.