October 2, 2012
Ice Laboratory Able To Give Scientists A Peak Into Past
[ Watch the Video: National Ice Core Lab Stores Valuable Ancient Ice ]
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
While temperatures across the country start to cool in accordance to the changing of seasons, there is one place in Denver, Colorado where it stays cool all year round.
Colorado experienced record highs this summer, but the National Ice Core Laboratory (NICL) was one place in the state that stayed well below hot, at minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
The laboratory acts as a storage place for ice cores recovered from the polar regions of the world, such as Antarctica. It allows the ice to be stored in a safeguarded, temperature-controlled environment, which utilizes multiple backups in the refrigeration system and a 24/7 alarm system.
The ice cores allow scientists to look back into the past, bringing in some sheets that date from 100,000 years ago.
An ice sheet is a permanent layer of ice that covers an extensive tract of land. As scientists drill down, they are able to uncover old pieces of ice that store data from thousands of years ago.
After drilling, the cores are carefully packaged and shipped back to the U.S., and are stored in a giant freezer at the NICL.
The freezer contains over 10 miles worth of ice cores, which scientists say look like tree rings and offer up a history of our planet.
"The unique thing about polar glaciers is that each year brings another layer of snow," manager Mark Twickler said in an NSF statement. "So, you get one year's worth of snow on top of the previous year. The layers compress, so everything that fell out of the atmosphere, including dust, salt from the ocean and volcanic ash, is preserved in the ice core."
He said there are times when it snows less for a few years, then snows more a few years later. These accumulation patterns give scientists an idea of what the temperatures were, how rough the oceans were, and how dusty it was in Australia.
"We can tell whether the dust came from Australia or South America, so in that way, we know the winds were stronger and drier in one region, or the other," Twickler said. "We can also look at the electrical properties of the ice from year to year. So, it's basically like looking at a weather report, year to year, going back in time,"
Julie Palais, program manager for the Antarctic glaciology program within the NSF's Office of Polar Programs, said the lab houses one of the most unique collections of scientific samples in the world.
The diversity allows scientists from all over the U.S. to study the ice for different types of research.
Some of the scientists study the bubbles trapped within the cores. This gives scientists the chance to measure a variety of gases that were in the atmosphere at the time.
"These icy blasts from the past are helping researchers better understand the mechanics of climate change," said Linda Morris, education program manager for the U.S. Ice Drilling Program. "Ice cores give us this long historical record of what naturally has been occurring to the Earth's climate for hundreds of thousands of years."
The NICL facility is able to help provide researchers with the capability to study climate change in ice without having to travel down to the south pole each time.